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German hospital says there's evidence Alexei Navalny was poisoned in Russia

Tests conducted on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny at a German hospital indicate that he was poisoned, but doctors said Monday they do not believe his life is at immediate risk.

Germany's Merkel calls on Russia to investigate as Navalny remains in induced coma

Alexei Navalny's wife Yulia, left, is shown arriving at the Charite hospital in Berlin, on Monday. Doctors noted the presence in tests conducted on Navalny of cholinesterase inhibitors, a broad range of substances found in several drugs but also pesticides and nerve agents. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa/The Associated Press)

Tests conducted on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny at a German hospital indicate that he was poisoned, but doctors said Monday they do not believe his life is at immediate risk.

The Charite hospital said in a statement that the team of doctors who have been examining Navalny since he was flown from Siberia and admitted Saturday have found the presence of "cholinesterase inhibitors" in his system.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are a broad range of substances that are found in several drugs but also pesticides and nerve agents. However, doctors at Charite said at the moment the specific substance to which Navalny was exposed is not yet known.

"The patient is in an intensive care unit and is still in an induced coma. His health is serious, but there is currently no acute danger to his life," the hospital said in a statement.

Navalny remained in critical but stable condition at the Berlin hospital, with special protection details on hand to ensure his safety, German officials said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is shown at a Moscow rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder on Feb. 29. The Berlin hospital now treating Navalny doesn't believe his life is at immediate risk though he remains in critical condition. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Berlin police and federal agents are posted at the downtown Charite hospital after Navalny, 44, was flown to Germany on Saturday from Siberia after much wrangling over whether he was stable enough to be transported.

Both Germany and France had extended offers to treat Navalny.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement shortly after the Berlin hospital detailed its initial findings that "in view of Mr. Navalny's prominent role in the political opposition in Russia, authorities there are now called upon urgently to investigate this crime in detail and in full transparency."

"Those responsible must be identified and held accountable."

U.S. to raise issue

On Sunday, Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, and aide Leonid Volkov visited the Russian opposition leader in the hospital but didn't speak to reporters.

Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday and was taken to the hospital in the city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.

Navalny supporters believe that tea he drank was laced with poison — and that the Kremlin is behind both his illness and a delay in transferring him to Germany.

During a protest Saturday in Khabarovsk in eastern Russia, a man holds a poster with a portrait of Navalny saying, 'Navalny was poisoned, we know who is to blame, Alexei, you must live.' (Igor Volkov/The Associated Press)

The Trump administration has been relatively silent on the incident, but U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said the Navalny case would be on the agenda for deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun's visit to Russia that begins Tuesday.

"With Alexei Navalny in a hospital in Berlin, our dialogue with Russia must include re-emphasizing the importance of free speech and civil society," he told reporters.

If Navalny is found to have been poisoned "that would represent a crucial moment in Russia," he said.

"The Russian people deserve to see that anybody who would have been involved in a matter like that be held accountable."

'We saved him': Russian doctors deny conspiracy allegations

Russian doctors on Monday said two laboratories found no poisonous substances in his system.

"If we had found poisoning confirmed by something, it would have been much easier for us," said Anatoly Kalinichecnko, deputy chief doctor of the Omsk Ambulance Hospital No. 1, where Navalny was treated.

"But we received a final conclusion from two laboratories that no toxic chemicals that can be considered poisons or by-products of poisons were found."

The hospital's chief doctor, Alexander Murakhovsky, rejected allegations made by Navalny's team that doctors in Omsk had been acting in co-ordination with Russia's security services.

"We were treating the patient, and we saved him," Murakhovsky said Monday. "There wasn't and couldn't be any influence on the patient's treatment."

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 an eye.

Last year, Navalny was rushed to a hospital from jail where he was serving a sentence on charges of violating protest regulations. His team also suspected poisoning then. Doctors said he had a severe allergic reaction and sent him back to detention the following day.

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