Britain to hold public inquiry into ex-spy Litvinenko death
The British government on Tuesday announced a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident who was poisoned in London with radioactive tea in 2006.
The move comes as Britain presses for further sanctions against Russia over the downing of a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine, allegedly by pro-Moscow separatists.
Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, made the announcement to parliament, adding: "I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow."
Litvinenko, a former agent in Russia's FSB intelligence agency and a Kremlin critic, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at a London hotel.
A public inquiry should mean British investigators can probe whether the Russian state was behind his murder.
British police have asked for the arrest of Russian nationals Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in relation to the death, but Moscow has refused to hand them over. They both deny involvement.
Litvinenko's death triggered a deep freeze in diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia which took years to thaw.
The public inquiry move is likely to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when relations are already under severe strain in the aftermath of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight in Ukraine, plus Russia's annexation of Crimea from its neighbour.
May originally wanted to wait for the results of a separate inquest into the death.
In English law, inquests are held to examine sudden, violent or unnatural deaths. While they determine the place and time of death as well as how the deceased came by their death, they do not apportion blame.
But three High Court judges ruled in February that May must reconsider her decision, following a challenge by Litvinenko's widow Marina.
The inquest coroner himself called for a full public inquiry, saying his work had been undermined because he was not allowed to see secret evidence about the Kremlin's alleged possible role in the killing.
© 2014 AFP