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Britain Opens Investigation of Litvinenko Assassination

Eight years after Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko died a slow, excruciating death by radioactive poisoning in London, allegedly at the hands of the Russian security services, the British government is finally opening a formal investigation.

Home Secretary Theresa May announced the inquiry Tuesday, more than five months after the London High Court ordered her to reconsider her decision to block an investigation. May said last year that she'd decided not to pursue the politically sensitive inquiry partly to preserve British-Russian relations, but those ties have been deeply strained in the last week as Prime Minister David Cameron has called for harsh sanctions against Russia after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in an area of Ukraine in the control of pro-Russian rebels.

Litvinenko, 43, a former KGB spy-turned-dissident, died in 2006 after he drank tea poisoned with polonium-210. He'd predicted that Russia would assassinate him and said the order likely was given personally by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

IMAGE: Alexander Litvinenko in a London hospital bed shortly before his death in 2006.
Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in a London hospital bed shortly before his death in 2006.

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— M. Alex Johnson