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Russian opposition politician Navalny in hospital for poisoning, says spokesperson

_This is a developing story, which is continuously updated. _

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in intensive care in a Siberian hospital after apparently being poisoned, his press secretary said on Twitter on Thursday.

Navalny was on a flight from Siberia to Moscow early on Thursday morning when the plane had to make an emergency landing due to a sudden deterioration of his health, his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh tweeted. "Alexei has been poisoned, intoxicated," and "is now in intensive care."

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

Yarmysh said they suspect a substance was mixed into his tea since it was the only thing he drank that morning. She adds, "doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid."

According to her statement, Navalny is in a coma and hooked to a ventilator.

State news agency Tass confirmed that Navalny was admitted to the intensive care unit of the toxicology department in the emergency department of Omsk hospital in Siberia.

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

Navalny is a major opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 44-year-old lawyer, whose anti-corruption publications are widely shared on social networks, has already suffered from physical attacks in the past. In particular, he was sprayed in the eyes with a disinfectant when leaving his office in 2017.

Navalny, his supporters and their families are regularly subjected to arrests, searches and police pressure throughout Russia.

In 2019 Navalny filed poisoning complaint

Roughly a year ago, on July 28, 2019, Navalny had filed a complaint to the Moscow Investigative Committee — the main federal investigating authority in Russia —saying that he had been poisoned in custody.

Navalny was discharged from a Moscow hospital in August 2019 and returned to prison after being treated for suspected poisoning from a chemical agent.

Back then, he was serving a jail stint for calling for unauthorised protests, but was hospitalised after suffering an acute allergic reaction, his spokeswoman Yarmysh said.

Doctors then said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.

Elena Sibikina, one of the doctors who treated Navalny, told reporters that the idea that he had been poisoned with a chemical substance had "not been proven". She said his life was not in danger.

But Navalny took to social media to say he believed Russian officials were stupid enough to try to poison him in prison.

"Are they really such idiots to poison you in a place where suspicions point only at them?" Navalny wrote on Facebook.

"It's a good question. For now, I can say one thing with certainty: the people in power in Russia are really quite stupid guys. It seems to you that in their actions you need to look for secret meaning or a rational purpose. But in fact, they are just stupid, malicious and obsessed with money."

Posting a picture of himself with a puffy face unable to open either eye, he pointed to what he said was the previous poisoning of two other opposition activists and said his own eyes had swollen up to the size of ping pong balls.

His own doctor and lawyer said they opposed the "strange" decision to return Navalny to a prison cell where they believe he was somehow poisoned in the first place.

"He was really poisoned by some unknown chemical substance," Olga Mikhailova, his lawyer, told reporters. "But what the substance was has not been established."

Navalny was released from prison on August 23, 2019, after a court refused to extend his sentence.

Navalny is one of the most prominent opposition politicians

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

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.

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.

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