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Doctors seek poisoning clues during autopsy

Story Highlights

• Alexander Litvinenko's widow tests positive for Polonium-210
• Italian man recently with Litvinenko, tests positive for radiation
• Postmortem on poisoned ex-spy completed in London
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Pathologists took extreme precautions Friday performing an autopsy on the body of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died after ingesting a fatal dose of the rare radioactive element polonium-210, according to the coroner's office.

Doctors completed the autopsy, but results won't be known until the criminal probe into Litvinenko's death is complete.

Because of the dangers posed by the isotope, radioactive levels were being monitored and those involved in the autopsy at Royal London Hospital were wearing protective clothing.

At the request of New Scotland Yard, the FBI was providing technical assistance, said Richard Kolko, FBI special agent.

"This is common, as we often receive requests to assist our international partners," he said.

Also Friday, one of the British Airways airplanes that was grounded while authorities examined it for possible traces of radiation was to fly back to London from Moscow -- but without passengers. More testing was planned.

And a spokesman for the private Russian airline Transaero said its plane in London had been cleared to return to service.

However, investigators were still examining two other British Airways planes that have flown between London and Moscow since November 1, when Litvinenko fell ill.

The former KGB spy, 43, died November 23, three weeks after claiming he had been poisoned. High doses of polonium were found in his body, and pathologists were trying to determine how the poison was ingested.

The autopsy was attended by three pathologists -- one appointed by the British government; another preparing a report for defense attorneys, in case the death results in murder charges; and the third representing Litvinenko's family, said the office of coroner Dr. Andrew Reid.

Last week, British officials confirmed that traces of radioactive material were found at Litvinenko's home and places where he ate and met others just before becoming sick.

Before he died, Litvinenko -- a harsh critic of the Russian government -- accused the Kremlin of poisoning him. Russian officials have denied the charge.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Jordan and asked for the Kremlin's cooperation in its investigation of the poisoning, according to Paul Knott, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow.

The Russian foreign minister assured her Russia is ready to help, said the diplomat. A spokesman for the Russian president had previously told CNN that Russia will cooperative in the probe.

British Airways began Wednesday to contact the estimated 33,000 passengers and 3,000 crew aboard the 221 flights since October 25 made by their aircraft that are involved in the investigation.

A National Health Service hotline has been swamped with calls since the airline investigations began, officials said.

--CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley contributed to this report


long.litvinenko.cnn.jpg

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko lies in bed in a London hospital shortly before his death.

British Airways Helpline

For more information about the flights, British Airways has established these phone lines:
Inside the UK: 0845 6040171
Outside the UK: 44191 211 3690
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