From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And we're going to begin this hour with the case of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. He died last night at a hospital in London and today the British government announced that he had a toxic radioactive substance in his body. Doctors had initially thought that he had been poisoned by a heavy metal, thallium. Russian President Vladimir Putin today personally denied any Kremlin involvement in Litvinenko's death. We'll check in on Moscow in a few minutes to find out what people there make of this strange story.

But first to London and NPR's Rob Gifford.

ROB GIFFORD: The day began with a dramatic news conference at which a statement written by Alexander Litvinenko before he died was read out by his friend Alex Goldfarb. The letter was addressed directly to Vladimir Putin.

Mr. ALEX GOLDFARB: You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.

GIFFORD: Litvinenko was known as a fierce critic of the Kremlin and had been investigating the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow when he fell ill on November 1st after meeting with two Russians in London and then eating at a sushi restaurant. He himself and many Russian dissidents in London believed he was poisoned by the Kremlin but speaking to reporters today at a summit with European Union leaders in Helsinki, President Putin denied any involvement.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Through Translator) The medical statement of the British physicians doesn't say that this was the result of violence. This was not a violent death, so there are no grounds for speculation of this kind.

GIFFORD: Putin said Russia will offer all necessary help to the investigation. Meanwhile, Britain's Health Protection Agency said the radioactive element Polonium 210 had been found in Litvinenko's urine. The agency's chief executive said that the high level indicated Litvinenko would either have to have eaten it, inhaled it or taken it in through a wound. The authorities said they had also found traces of radiation at the sushi bar in Central London where Litvinenko ate the day he became sick and at the hotel where he met the two Russians that same day. The British government says it has raised what it called the serious matter of Alexander Litvinenko's death with Moscow.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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