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Russia says UK is politicising Litvinenko case

Russia accused Britain of politicising the case of murdered Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko on Friday and said the affair was hurting the two countries’ relations.

”We see attempts from the British side to use the criminal case to build up some sort of political campaign,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. ”We are against that. It is the business of the law-enforcement agencies.”

Asked if the affair was having a negative impact on Russia’s relationship with Britain, Lavrov told a news briefing: ”Such an effect is being felt.”

The remarks are likely to heighten a diplomatic feud over the Litvinenko affair that has already revived memories of Cold War spy scandals and soured relations between two countries now tied by huge sums in investment and trade.

British prosecutors have named Andrei Lugovoy, a business contact of Litvinenko’s, as their chief suspect in his murder and asked Russia to extradite him. But Moscow has refused, saying it cannot extradite its own citizens.

Britain’s Foreign Ministry was quick to counter Lavrov’s comments, saying the case was purely a criminal matter.

”We have no desire to aggravate diplomatic relations,” said a Foreign Office spokesperson. ”We have consistently said the murder of Mr Litvinenko is a very serious criminal matter.”

”We now await a formal and constructive response to the extradition request so that the case can be tried by the appropriate, relevant organ — namely a United Kingdom court.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin are to meet in the German resort of Heiligendamm next week at the Group of Eight summit. It was not clear if they would have a separate, face-to-face meeting.

Litvinenko, a former officer in Russia’s Federal Security Service who took British citizenship, died last year in a London hospital after being poisoned by the radioactive isotope polonium 210.

Litvinenko said in a deathbed statement later released by his friends he believed the Kremlin was behind his murder.

Secret services

Kremlin officials angrily denied the allegation. They believe London-based opponents of Putin are using the case to damage Russia’s image and that Britain is providing a platform for their allegations.

Lugovoy on Thursday denied any guilt and said he believed British intelligence was involved in the killing.

”The poisoning of Litvinenko could not have been but under the control of British secret services,” Lugovoy told a news conference in Moscow.

In an interview with Reuters in Rome, Litvinenko’s brother said Lugovoy’s accusations were ”absolutely absurd”.

Some investors fear the affair could harm business ties between Britain and Russia, though there has been no clear evidence of that. — Reuters

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