YUSHCHENKO
Efrem Lukatsky  /  AP file
This combination photo depicts Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's opposition leader and top presidential candidate, before and after his mysterious illness.
updated 12/8/2004 8:27:38 AM ET 2004-12-08T13:27:38

The cause of the illness that has left Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko’s face pockmarked is still not known, the director of the hospital that treated him said Wednesday, rejecting a report that the presidential candidate was poisoned.

Yushchenko has accused the Ukrainian authorities of poisoning him during the campaign leading up to last month’s disputed presidential election, something they deny.

Doctors are still running tests to try to determine what caused the illness, said Dr. Michael Zimpfer, the Rudolfinerhaus director.

“We are meticulously investigating that, and we are running entirely new tests in different labs, but there is no evidence so far,” he said.

Zimpfer rejected as “entirely untrue” a story in the Wednesday edition of the London daily The Times, which quoted Dr. Nikolai Korpan — the Rudolfinerhaus physician who oversaw Yushchenko’s treatment — as saying that Yushchenko had been poisoned and the intention was to kill the candidate.

Korpan also was quoted as denying making the remarks.

“The suspicion of poisoning has until now neither been confirmed or excluded,” Korpan said, according to the Austria Press Agency. He could not be reached for further comment.

Zimpfer said doctors had only “a descriptive diagnosis” but were still trying to determine what had caused the illness.

It could have been natural causes, or it could have been a poison, Zimpfer said, adding that “it might also have been a combination of poisons. Everything is in the air.”

Yushchenko first sought treatment at Vienna’s private Rudolfinerhaus clinic on Sept. 10, four days after falling ill.

He went home in mid-September to resume campaigning but came back to the hospital later that month for more treatment, returning to the campaign in early October. The illness has changed his appearance, leaving his once-smooth skin pockmarked and one eye often tearing up.

One of the theories being tested was whether Yushchenko could have suffered from dioxin poisoning, as suggested by British toxicologist John Henry.

One of the chief doctors treating Yushchenko, Lothar Wicke, had been placed under police protection after receiving an anonymous threat. No details about the threat have been released.

Yushchenko was defeated by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the Nov. 21 presidential election runoff, but the result was later canceled by the Supreme Court amid accusations of fraud that led to massive protests in Ukraine. A rerun of the election is set for Dec. 26.

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