Ukrainian presidential hopeful Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, most likely intentionally, doctors in Vienna who have been struggling to diagnose his mystery illness...

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VIENNA, Austria — Ukrainian presidential hopeful Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, most likely intentionally, doctors in Vienna who have been struggling to diagnose his mystery illness confirmed yesterday.

Yushchenko, a pro-Western opposition leader engaged in a bitter presidential contest, has alleged since suddenly falling ill in September that he was poisoned in an assassination attempt intended to eliminate a key critic of Ukraine’s government. Authorities have denied the charge, and some government supporters have ridiculed it.

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Michael Zimpfer, director of the private Rudolfinerhaus clinic that has been treating Yushchenko, said tests concluded in the last 24 hours prove that dioxin caused the illness that has disfigured the Ukrainian candidate’s face.

“There is no doubt about the fact that Mr. Yushchenko’s disease has been caused by dioxin poisoning,” he said. The doctors, Zimpfer said, “suspect the involvement of an external party,” and that the dioxin was given orally. “The criminal investigation does not fall within our purview,” he added.

The diagnosis was based on clinical observations, skin changes and findings from tissue and blood samples, he said.

Asked whether he had reported his findings to the Ukrainian authorities, Zimpfer replied that Austrian justice officials have been in direct contact with Ukraine since Yushchenko’s second hospitalization in September.

Yushchenko fell sick Sept. 6, the day after having late-night food and drinks with the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, among other people. Yushchenko’s wife, Kateryna Chumachenko, said she noticed a strange taste on his lips when she kissed him that night.

“I tasted some medicine on his breath, on his lips,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “And I asked him about it. He brushed it away, saying there is nothing.”

Yushchenko has suffered problems that affected several internal organs and caused severe back pain, according to his doctors. The most visible symptom has been disfigurement of his face with pockmarks, cysts and darkened areas. In recent weeks, medical experts in various countries have said the facial condition appeared to be chloracne, which is associated with dioxin poisoning.

The explosive allegation of attempted murder, now backed by fresh medical evidence, could have an unpredictable effect on a repeat presidential runoff election pitting Yushchenko against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on Dec. 26. The revote was set after the Supreme Court ruled the Nov. 21 balloting, narrowly won by Yanukovych, invalid because of fraud.

Yushchenko supporters, however, already believed he had been poisoned, and it was not immediately clear how many Yanukovych backers would be willing to believe the Vienna doctors.

Some people in the opposition camp remained nervous whether the Dec. 26 balloting really would take place. Yesterday’s announcement potentially raised the stakes by increasing the possibility that if the poisoning were an assassination attempt, those responsible might be caught and punished under a Yushchenko presidency.

“I don’t want all of us to have the impression that the Yanukovych campaign and Yanukovych himself have relaxed and stopped fighting,” Yulia Tymoshenko, a key opposition leader, said in Kiev, the capital. “They will try everything for the presidential elections not to happen, or not to have a result.”

Under Ukrainian law, if a presidential election is so flawed that it is impossible to determine the result, it is possible for the incumbent to remain in power while new balloting is organized.

Speaking to a rally in the eastern city of Luhansk before the Vienna announcement, Yanukovych expressed sympathy for Yushchenko. “He really is a sick person,” Yanukovych replied. “I had a little talk with him concerning this topic. I’m sorry for him as a person. I wish him to get well soon. As for the reasons, I know nothing. Let the specialists work on that.”