Russian opposition figure Navalny in coma after poisoning

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(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) FILE – In this Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019 file, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media in front of security officers standing guard at the Foundation for Fighting Corruption office in Moscow, Russia. Navalny on Monday, July 20, 2020 announced the closure of his non-profit Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) over the court’s order to pay massive damages in a controversial lawsuit, but said it would reopen under a new name.

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019 file, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media in front of security officers standing guard at the Foundation for Fighting Corruption office in Moscow, Russia. Navalny on Monday, July 20, 2020 announced the closure of his non-profit Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) over the court's order to pay massive damages in a controversial lawsuit, but said it would reopen under a new name.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (AP) — Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is in a coma and on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit in Siberia after falling ill from suspected poisoning during a flight, his spokeswoman said Thursday morning.

The 44-year-old foe of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia, Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter.

She said the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Siberia, and that Navalny was suffering from “toxic poisoning.”

“He is in a coma in grave condition,” she said on Twitter.

She also told the Echo Moskvy radio station that during the flight Navalny was sweating and asked her to talk to him so that he could “focus on a sound of a voice.” He then went to the bathroom and lost consciousness.

Yarmysh said the politician must have consumed something from tea he drank earlier in the morning at an airport cafe before boarding the plane.

“Doctors are saying the toxin was absorbed quicker with hot liquid,” she tweeted, adding that Navalny’s team called police to the hospital.

Russia’s state news agency Tass reported that the politician is in grave condition, citing the chief doctor at the hospital.

Last year, Navalny was rushed to a hospital from prison where he was serving a sentence following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning. Doctors then said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.

Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level. Last month, he had to shut the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Navalny last week of organizing unprecedented mass protests against his re-election that have rocked Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor since Aug. 9. He did not, however, provide any evidence and that claim was one of many blaming foreign forces for the unrest.

Like many other opposition politicians in Russia, Navalny has been frequently detained by law enforcement and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.

The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.

He set up a network of campaign offices across Russia and has since been putting forward opposition candidates in regional elections, challenging members of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia.

In the interview with Echo Moskvy, Yarmysh said she believed the suspected poisoning was connected to this year’s regional election campaign.

Vyacheslav Gimadi, a lawyer with Navalny’s foundation, said the team is requesting Russia’s Investigative Committee open a criminal probe.

“There is no doubt that Navalny was poisoned because of his political stance and activity,” Gimadi said in a tweet on Thursday.

Navalny is not the first opposition figure to come down with a mysterious poisoning. In 2018, Pyotr Verzilov, a member of Russia’s protest group Pussy Riot, ended up in an intensive care unit after a suspected poisoning and had to be flown to Berlin for treatment. Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was hospitalized with poisoning symptoms twice — in 2015 and 2017. Both said they were poisoned for their political activity.

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