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HOSPITAL

Pussy Riot activist in German hospital says he was poisoned

An activist with Russian protest punk band Pussy Riot said on Wednesday he was "convinced" he was poisoned by Russia's secret service, possibly for looking into the killing of three Russian reporters in Africa.

Pussy Riot activist in German hospital says he was poisoned
Pyotr Verzilov in an interview in September. Photo: DPA

Speaking from a Berlin hospital Pyotr Verzilov, who has both Canadian and Russian citizenship, told German daily Bild that he believed it was likely it was Russia's GRU military intelligence agency that attacked him.

“The poisoning was so professional that I can't draw any other conclusion,” Verzilov, 30, was quoted as saying.

“It is possible they tried out a new poison cocktail on me because my poisoning took a different course than others: it didn't take several days before I noticed something but rather was acute right away.”

Verzilov was admitted to a clinic in Moscow earlier this month with symptoms including vision loss and disorientation.

He was later flown to Germany and admitted to Berlin's Charite hospital. Doctors there have said Verzilov might have been poisoned by a toxin that disrupts the nervous system.

Verzilov and other Pussy Riot members served a 15-day jail sentence for invading the football pitch during the World Cup final in July to highlight Russian police abuses.

Pussy Riot has linked Verzilov's suspected poisoning with his attempt to investigate the deaths of three Russian journalists in Central African Republic (CAR) in July – a theory he repeated to Bild.

The journalists were shot dead in CAR while probing a shadowy Russian mercenary group for a project founded by President Vladimir Putin's foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Bild said Verzilov had been close to one of the reporters and was only kept from joining the three in Central African Republic because he had to serve jail time for the World Cup stunt.

“I wanted to and still want to investigate what happened with the three journalists,” he said.

“That could be the reason why the secret service wanted to poison me. I consider it to be a more likely motive than the World Cup demonstration.”

Verzilov told Bild he hoped to be released from the Berlin hospital “as soon as possible”.

“And I want to return to Russia,” he said.

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HOSPITAL

How the chatty robot Franzi is cheering up German patients

Cleaning robot Franzi makes sure floors are spotless at the Munich hospital where she works, and has taken on a new role during the pandemic: cheering up patients and staff.

How the chatty robot Franzi is cheering up German patients
Franzi at the Munich hospital where she works. Photo: AFP/Christof Stache

“Can you move out the way, please? I need to clean,” trills the robot in German when people block her pre-programmed cleaning route.

“You need to move! I really want to clean!” she squeaks at those who still don't get out of the way. And if that doesn't work, digital tears begin to stream from her LED-light eyes.

“Visitors are not allowed in the pandemic, so Franzi entertains the patients a bit,” says Constance Rettler of Dr. Rettler, the company in charge of cleaning the Neuperlach hospital that provided the robot.

READ ALSO: Small talk with Luna: German robots increasingly in contact with customers

Three times a day, Franzi bustles through the clinic's entrance hall, her feet automatically mopping the floors. Amused patients take photos of her, and some even stop to chat to the metre-high robot.

“Ah, there you are my friend,” cries one elderly lady with a drip on her arm upon catching sight of Franzi.

“One of our recent patients came down three times a day to talk to her,” smiles Tanja Zacherl, who oversees hospital maintenance.

Extra employee

Created by a company in Singapore, Franzi was originally named Ella and spoke English before coming to Munich early this year.

Yet her German is perfect as she tells her interviewers that she “never wants to grow up” and that cleaning is her passion.

When prompted, she can also sing classic German pop songs and even rap.

Franzi on the move. Photo: AFP/Christof Stache

Rettler is adamant that the robot is not taking jobs away from real human beings but instead is supposed to “support” her flesh-and-blood colleagues, who have become harder to come by during the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the pandemic, there is lots of extra disinfecting work to be done in hospitals,” says Rettler.

“While Franzi is cleaning the floors, our employees can concentrate on doing that.”

A robot has its limits however. It is still unable to get into tight
corners, and if it hits an obstacle, it bursts into tears and remains stuck until rescued by a human.

Yet Franzi also has a reason to be cheerful. After a test phase of several weeks, she appears to have settled in at the Neuperlach hospital.

Rettler's company has therefore decided to keep her there permanently rather than deploy her elsewhere.

READ ALSO: How robots could shape Germany's political future

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