Putin critic Navalny flown to Germany

OMSK, Russia, Aug 22, 2020 (AFP) - An air ambulance took off from the Siberian city of Omsk on Saturday carrying Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to Germany for treatment of a suspected poisoning, after a day-long standoff over his medical evacuation.

The 44-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner, one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell into a coma after becoming suddenly ill Thursday on a plane to Moscow that had to make an emergency landing in Omsk.

His aides say they believe he was poisoned, apparently by a cup of tea at the airport, and blamed Putin, though Russian doctors said tests showed no trace of any poison.

Doctors treating him in Omsk had refused to let Navalny leave but reversed course after his family and staff demanded he be allowed to travel to Germany.

The plane, chartered by the German NGO Cinema for Peace, took off around 8:00 am local time (0200 GMT) to fly Navalny to Berlin’s Charite hospital for treatment.

It was expected to land at Berlin Schonefeld airport at 9:24 local time (0724 GMT).

Navalny’s wife Yulia posted a picture on Instagram of him being lifted into the plane on a covered stretcher and thanked supporters for their “persistence”.

“Without your support, we wouldn’t have been able to take him!” she wrote.

The ambulance arrived at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 early Saturday and masked medics put Navalny inside on a stretcher.

Russian doctors have said he is in a coma and breathing through a ventilator in a grave state.

They have said tests did not find any trace of poison, however, and said Navalny appeared to have a “metabolic disorder” and to have suffered a sharp drop in blood sugar levels.

The regional interior ministry said police detected an industrial chemical after swabbing Navalny and his luggage, although doctors said this would not have caused his condition.

The air ambulance arrived in Omsk on Friday morning but Russian doctors initially said that Navalny was too “unstable” to be moved.