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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny flies into Berlin for medical treatment for suspected poisoning

Thursday’s early morning flight was diverted to Omsk, where local doctors at first refused his colleagues and doctor access to him, then wouldn’t allow him to be evacuated before finally buckling amid intense international scrutiny.

Navalny’s wife Yulia appealed directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday in a letter requesting he be allowed to leave.

Late Friday permission was granted for him to depart after German doctors assessed his condition and judged that he was able to fly.

Navalny is the latest in a succession of Kremlin critics who have fallen mysteriously ill or died with poisoning or suspected poisoning.

Earlier Friday Alexander Murakhovsky, chief physician at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, denied permission for Navalny to be transferred to German care, prompting Navalny’s colleagues to accuse authorities of trying to cover up a proper investigation of the suspected poisoning.

Murakhovsky said there were no indications of poisoning. Earlier he had said it would take two days to get test results.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh called the refusal to allow Navalny to depart an attempt to take his life, suggesting on Twitter that authorities wanted to thwart an investigation by stalling “until the poison in his body can no longer be traced.”

Another ally, Leonid Volkov wrote, “They have an order: Don’t let him go so that it will be impossible for an independent laboratory to confirm poison.”

As international scrutiny of the case mounted, Murakhovsky reversed his position and announced that Navalny could fly. He said Navalny had not been poisoned but had been diagnosed with a metabolic disease caused by low blood sugar.

Murakhovsky also said traces of industrial chemicals had been found on Navalny’s clothes and hands without offering further explanation.

The medical ambulance flight sent by Berlin-based human rights activist Jaka Bizilj’s Cinema for Peace Foundation left Omsk for Berlin in the early hours of Saturday, where Navalny was to be taken to Charité hospital.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Foreign Secretary Dominque Raab expressed concern Friday about what had happened to Navalny.

President Trump said, “We haven’t seen it yet, we’re looking at it, and Mike (Pompeo)’s going to be reporting to me soon.” Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul criticized Trump’s failure to express concern over the case, comparing Navalny to American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, South African freedom fighter and president Nelson Mandela and the leader of the Indian nonviolent struggle against British colonialism Mohandas Gandhi.

“While Navalny has not succeeded yet, there should be no doubt that his cause is good and just,” McFaul wrote, adding, “Vladimir Putin is evil. Over the past 20 years, Russia’s current leader has constructed a ruthless dictatorship.”

He said Trump had shown, “Not a word of concern, let alone outrage. In the clear divide between good and evil in Russia, Trump is on the wrong side.”

Navalny is Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, known for his scathing YouTube exposes of corruption and graft by Russian politicians, bureaucrats and oligarchs.

He has been frequently jailed for organizing unsanctioned protests. In July, he was forced to shut down his Anti-Corruption Foundation after it was crippled by fines. He pledged to immediately start up a new organization that would do the same work.

In March, authorities froze his bank account and those of all his family members including his parents, daughter and even his 11-year-old son Zakhar. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018.

Among those believed poisoned were crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya who exposed Russian atrocities in Chechnya, and fell ill on a flight in 2004 after drinking tea. She survived but was shot dead outside her apartment in 2006.

Another vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin living in exile in London, Alexander Litvinenko, a former intelligence agent, was poisoned with Polonium-210 while drinking tea in a London hotel. Litvinenko often criticized corruption in Russia under Putin. A British inquiry later found that Putin probably approved his murder.

In 2018, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia nearly died when Russian agents poisoned them with the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok (or The Newcomer.)

Pussy Riot member Pyotr Verzilov, who ran onto the pitch dressed as police with other members of the group at the World Cup soccer final in front of Putin and world leaders in 2018, fell ill with suspected poisoning just weeks later.

Like Navalny he was evacuated to Berlin’s Charité hospital for treatment. Doctors there said it was “highly plausible” that he had been poisoned.

Other Kremlin opponents, including prominent opposition leader Boris Nemstov, have been assassinated. Nemtsov was shot dead on a Moscow bridge near the Kremlin in 2015, walking home after eating out.

William Glucroft in Berlin contributed to this story.

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