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Yushchenko Sketches Murder Plot

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Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday that he was sure he was poisoned by the Ukrainian government.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Yushchenko pinpointed for the first time, when and where he believed he was poisoned with dioxin: a Sept. 5 lunch with the head of the Ukrainian security service, Ihor Smeshko, and his deputy, Volodymyr Satsyuk.

"That was the only place where no one from my team was present and no precautions were taken concerning the food," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It was a project of political murder, prepared by the authorities."

A parliamentary commission that investigated Yushchenko's mysterious illness in October said he had complained of pains after meeting with Smeshko, but it also listed other places he ate or drank that day. Smeshko promised the secret service would investigate.

Yushchenko, who was facially disfigured by the poisoning, told The AP that Ukrainian prosecutors were looking into the case and said he was confident the official culprits would be punished.

"I have no doubt that within several days or weeks, this path will lead to the authorities, to specific people representing the government — who administered the poison, who was involved, from whom the poison was procured," he said. "Who blessed it on different levels of government?"

Experts say it is impossible for Yushchenko to have naturally acquired such high levels of dioxin. New tests reveal the level in his blood is more than 6,000 times higher than normal and is the second highest ever recorded in human history, said Abraham Brouwer, professor of environmental toxicology at the Free University in Amsterdam, where blood samples taken in Vienna were sent for analysis.

Brouwer's team has narrowed the search from more than 400 dioxins to about 29 and is confident they will identify the poison by week's end.

Speaking on other subjects Thursday, Yushchenko voiced hope that if he wins the Dec. 26 presidential rerun, he would make efforts to turn a new page in relations with Russia, which heavily backed his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. At the same time, he said Ukraine would move to integrate more closely into European structures and possibly aim at an associate membership in the European Union in three-five years.

He voiced confidence that Ukraine would not split, but reaffirmed the need to punish regional officials in mostly Russian-speaking eastern provinces who had pushed for self-rule.