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Former spy's last statement blasts Putin,

In a chilling accusation dictated and signed just hours before he lapsed into a coma and died, a former KGB agent fingered Russian President Vladimir Putin as the man ultimately responsible for his death after a suspected poisoning shrouded in mystery.

Putin denied the allegation as medical experts and criminal investigators tried to unravel a case that has perplexed them for three weeks.

British officials announced yesterday that a "major dose" of polonium-210, a hard-to-detect radioactive substance, had been found in the urine of the former agent, Alexander Litvinenko. Scotland Yard said it also had found traces of the substance in Litvinenko's London home, at a sushi bar where he ate and at a hotel where he met two Russian men on the day he fell ill.

Standing before a cluster of cameras and reporters yesterday outside London's University College Hospital where Litvinenko, 43, was pronounced dead Thursday evening, his close friend Alexander Goldfarb read the former spy's final statement:

"You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.

"You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr. Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life."

Speaking to reporters yesterday in Helsinki, where he was attending a European Union summit, Putin called Litvinenko's death a "tragedy" but asserted that until now, there has been no proof of foul play.

"The people who did it are not God almighty and Mr. Litvinenko, alas, is not Lazarus. And it's a great pity that even such tragic things as human death are used for political provocations," Putin said.

Pat Troop, head of Britain's Health Protection Agency, said that the high levels of the substance found in Litvinenko's urine indicated that he "would either have to have eaten it, inhaled it or taken it in through a wound." Officials were debating whether it was safe to perform an autopsy, Troop said.

The former spy's father, Walter Litvinenko, a medical doctor, was at his son's side at the time of death and later spoke to reporters outside the hospital.

"It was an excruciating death, and he took it like a real man," said the elder Litvinenko, tears flowing. "He never lost his human dignity."

The strange tale began Nov. 1 when Litvinenko met for tea with two Russian men at a London hotel. One of them, a former KGB agent named Andrei Lugovoi, has since offered to assist in the investigation.

Later that day, Litvinenko met with an Italian investigator, Mario Scaramella, who apparently showed him documents related to the Oct. 7 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of Putin.

That evening Litvinenko fell ill and checked into a London hospital. Ten days later, he told the British Broadcasting Corp's Russian service he had been poisoned after receiving information on the Politkovskaya case.

On Nov. 17, as his condition deteriorated, he was transferred to University College Hospital. When doctors there suspected he had been given a fatal dose of thallium, Scotland Yard opened an investigation.

As hope faded, his final words, whispered to Andrei Nekrasov, a friend and filmmaker, were, "The bastards got me, but they won't get everybody," according to a report in the Times of London. He then lapsed into a coma.

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