LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it will hold a public inquiry into the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, who accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder from his deathbed after he was poisoned in London in 2006.
Last year, the British government rejected a request for an inquiry into the killing of Litvinenko, who died after drinking tea poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in a plush London hotel, leading to accusations it wanted to appease the Kremlin which has always denied any involvement in the death.
However, the reversal of that decision comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron leads calls for hard-hitting sanctions against Russia, including freezing the assets of Putin's close allies, after the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 in Ukraine last week.
"It is more than seven years since Mr. Litvinenko’s death, and I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow," Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said in a statement. Relations between the countries fell to a post-Cold War low following the death of the 43-year-old former Russian agent and Kremlin critic who had been granted British citizenship. He died days after being poisoned with polonium-210, but not before he had blamed Putin for his murder.
An inquiry is likely to further strain Anglo-Russian relations by delving into the issue of whether Russia was involved in the killing, an accusation which a senior judge has said there was evidence to support.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)