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Exiled Russian tycoon Berezovsky says British intelligences plotted to kill him

Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon who blamed the Kremlin for the killing of a former KGB officer in London, said Wednesday that he had briefly fled Britain last month after British intelligence services foiled a plot to kill him.

About three weeks ago, "I was informed by Scotland Yard that there is a plot to kill me and they recommended to me to leave the country," Berezovsky told The Associated Press. He said he left Britain immediately for about a week and returned when Scotland Yard told him it was safe to do so.

Berezovsky, a tycoon and one-time Kremlin insider, fell out with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was granted political asylum in Britain, where he has become a vocal critic of the Kremlin. His visibility has increased substantially since the murder in London last November of Alexander Litvinenko, an exiled former KGB agent who also was a harsh critic of Putin.

Berezovsky's claim is likely to further raise tensions between Russia and Britain, which have soared over Russia's refusal to extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, the man identified by Britain as the chief suspect in the Litvinenko killing.

Scotland Yard declined to comment on Berezovsky's claim and on newspaper reports that said a suspect had been seized at a London hotel to which he reportedly had intended to try to lure Berezovsky and then shoot him.

Berezovsky said he initially learned of the plot through contacts within Russia's Federal Security Service.

"They told me that someone I knew would come and kill me openly and present it as a business matter. He would say there was a disagreement over the business," he said.

Litvinenko died Nov. 23 after ingesting radioactive polonium-210, and in a deathbed statement he blamed Putin for being behind the killing. Litvinenko said he fell ill after meeting Lugovoi and business partner Dmitry Kovtun at London's Millennium Hotel on Nov. 1.

A waiter who was working at the hotel told a British newspaper on Sunday that he believed a poison had been sprayed into a pot of green tea.

Britain, responding to Moscow's refusal to extradite Lugovoi, announced this week that it would expel four Russian diplomats.

On Tuesday, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said that decision was "a direct path to confrontation and narrowing of the opportunities for interaction with Russia on a wide spectrum of issues."

He said Russia would inform Britain very soon of its response, while Britain said that retaliation would not be justified.