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Napoleon poison theory revived

PARIS, France -- New evidence has given weight to the theory that French emperor Napoleon was poisoned by French and British conspirators.

French scientists say new findings prove that Napoleon -- who officially died of stomach cancer -- was in fact poisoned with arsenic.

The research was commissioned by Ben Weider, a Canadian Napoleon enthusiast and supporter of the theory -- rejected by most mainstream historians -- that the emperor was murdered by senior French and English officials because he posed a threat to their power.

Pascal Kintz, a toxicologist who studied five samples of Napoleon's hair preserved since his death in 1821, told Reuters: "The analysis showed there was major exposure, and I stress 'major', to arsenic."

Paul Fornes, a forensic pathologist working alongside Kintz, said the original diagnosis of stomach cancer was not supported by the autopsy performed on the defeated emperor's body a day after his death.

"The lesions to the stomach described by Francesco Antommarchi (the doctor who performed the autopsy) were not the cause of death," he told a conference in Paris, Reuters said.

Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor in 1804 after a swift ascent through the ranks of the revolutionary French army.

Weider argued that the British governor of St. Helena -- the south Atlantic island where Napoleon was exiled -- had conspired with French count Charles de Montholon to assassinate Napoleon for fear he would escape and return to France.

"If they had killed him suddenly after Waterloo, they would have had a new French revolution on their hands, because the emperor was very popular. They had to make it look like his health was deteriorating gradually," he told Reuters.

"In those days, whoever won the war wrote history. They lied about his death as they lied about his life and achievements. What we are proving today with science is a key to the whole argument," he added.

Kintz told Reuters the accepted natural upper limit of arsenic concentration in hair is one nanogram per milligram of hair. In one of the samples he tested, that concentration was 38 nanograms.

However some at the conference expressed doubts as to whether the hair analysed was authentic.

"I wouldn't swear all the supposed locks of Napoleon's hair that are scattered around the world these days are authentic," Baudoin de Witt, a descendant of the emperor, told Reuters.

But Weider is undaunted and is seeking authorisation from the French government to open Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides in Paris to compare the DNA in the hair samples with that of his remains.

• French Presidents
• Napoleon's Account of the Internal Situation of France in 1804
• Napoleon Bonaparte - Emperor of France

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