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Britain to Expel Four Russian Diplomats

British officials say they will expel four Russian diplomats in a showdown over Russia's refusal to extradite a murder suspect. British police want Andrei Lugovoi, a Russian businessman and former KGB agent, to stand trial for the the poisoning in London of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Britain's foreign minister on Monday declared that four Russian diplomats will be expelled over Russia's refusal to extradite a suspect in the murder of a former KGB agent in London, provoking an angry response from the Kremlin.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband also said Britain has suspended visa facilitation negotiations with Russia and is reviewing cooperation on other issues.

"The Russian government has failed to register either how seriously we treat this case or the seriousness of the issues involved, despite lobbying at the highest level and clear explanations of our need for a satisfactory response," Miliband said.

Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Kamynin said the action will not go unanswered. "London's position is immoral," Kamynin said. "They should understand well in London that the provocative actions conceived by British authorities will not go unanswered and cannot fail to produce the most serious consequences" for bilateral relations.

Last week, Russia formally refused to extradite Russian businessman Andrei Lugovoi to stand trial in London for the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Lugovoi said Monday the expulsions "once again confirms that the Litvinenko affair had a political subtext from the very beginning," the Interfax news agency reported.

International agreements mean that Lugovoi, also a former KGB agent, could be extradited if he travels outside Russia, Miliband said.

Britain's Foreign Office declined to specify the rank or position of the four Russian diplomats to be expelled.

"We have chosen to expel four particular diplomats in order to send a clear and proportionate signal about the seriousness of this case," Miliband said.

British prosecutors have named Lugovoi as the chief suspect in the case, and authorities are seeking to try him for Litvinenko's murder.

Litvinenko died Nov. 23 in a London hospital after ingesting radioactive polonium-210. In a deathbed statement, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind his killing.

The ex-security agent said he first felt ill after meeting Lugovoi and business partner Dmitry Kovtun at London's Millennium Hotel.

Traces of polonium-210 were found at around a dozen other sites in London, including three hotels, a stadium, two planes and an office building.

In Britain, 700 people were tested for polonium contamination and 670 were tested abroad — including Lugovoi. All were eventually released.

Russia's formal rejection was received a week ago by British prosecutors, who in turn spurned an offer from Moscow to try Lugovoi in Russia.

From The Associated Press reports