LONDON - Traces of radiation have been found at several more sites in London during investigations into the death of a former Russian spy last week, British Home Secretary John Reid said today.
Reid told parliament the traces had been found at "several other premises" in addition to Alexander Litvinenko's home and a hotel and restaurant he visited on November 1, the day he fell ill with radiation poisoning.
Significant amounts of radioactive Polonium 210 were found in the body of Litvinenko, a former agent who became a fierce Kremlin critic and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his slow, agonising death. Moscow denies involvement.
"There is no need for public alarm," said Reid, who did not name the contaminated locations. Media reports cited a central London office block and an address in the capital's exclusive Mayfair district. Police declined to comment.
Health officials have said Polonium 210 is dangerous only if it is swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through a wound.
Reid's comments deepened the mystery over how and where Litvinenko ingested the poison that wasted away his body, caused his hair to fall out and gradually shut down his vital organs.
Some 500 people have called a hotline for health advice, the minister said. Britain's Health Protection Agency said three people had been referred to a clinic for radiological assessment, but purely as a precaution.
Police are investigating the case as a suspicious death and the affair has raised tension between London and Moscow.
The motive has spawned frenzied speculation in both British and Russian media, with some linking it to Litvinenko's reported investigations into Russian oil company Yukos and into last month's murder of prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
"I believe it's about the general fact that Alexander was probably number one on the private enemy list of the Russian security services," Litvinenko's friend Alexander Goldfarb told Reuters.
The ex-spy had published a book accusing Russian security services of carrying out Moscow apartment bombings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen rebels and used by Putin as justification for war against the separatists.
Goldfarb said he had been interviewed by the police about the dead man's background. "It was mostly about ... his past connections and history in Russia, his friends and enemies, the general political context."
The Kremlin has described Litvinenko's murder allegation as ridiculous, and Putin said the death was being used for "political provocation".
Senior British cabinet minister Peter Hain yesterday condemned "murky murders" in Putin's Russia and criticised "huge attacks" there on individual freedoms and democracy.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said today it was premature to jump to conclusions before police had completed their investigation.
A lawyer for Mario Scaramella, an Italian contact who met Litvinenko at a London sushi bar on the day he fell ill, said Scaramella had travelled London to speak to British authorities.