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Chechen Premier Falls Ill; Poison Suspected

Investigators try to determine whether something was put in food or if it was spoiled.

September 29, 2003|From Associated Press

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia — Chechen Prime Minister Anatoly Popov was treated for food poisoning Sunday, and investigators were trying to determine whether someone had tried to kill the Kremlin-backed leader.

Popov remained hospitalized in serious condition near the Chechen capital, Grozny, said Sergei Kozhemyaka, a duty officer with the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Chechen officials working for the Moscow-backed government are frequent rebel targets, and tension is high ahead of next Sunday's presidential election in the war-torn republic. But attacks have almost exclusively involved guns and explosives.

Kozhemyaka said that one theory was that poison was slipped into something Popov ate or drank during a ceremony Saturday in Gudermes celebrating the official opening of a new gas pipeline. He cautioned that the investigation was continuing.

The Itar-Tass news agency, citing a military source, said early evidence suggested that spoiled curd cheese may have been the cause.

Popov was hospitalized Saturday night after complaining of pain as his motorcade returned to Grozny.

Popov, 43, was named prime minister in February. He is temporarily serving as Chechnya's acting president while his boss, Akhmad Kadyrov, campaigns for the October election.

Kadyrov is widely expected to win.

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