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Court overrules election board

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A Ukrainian court yesterday overturned an official ban blocking hundreds of candidates from the leading pro-Western opposition party from competing in critical parliamentary elections set for next month.

The Kiev District Administrative Court gave the Central Election Committee until today to reverse its ruling issued Friday decertifying the entire slate of candidates supporting former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on technical grounds.

Mrs. Tymoshenko, a leading figure in the country's 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, charged that the election committee had issued the ban to boost the chances of the pro-Russian party of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the Sept. 30 vote.

Mrs. Tymoshenko's bloc and Mr. Yanukovych's Party of Regions lead the polls in the parliamentary vote, designed to end months of stalemate between the country's pro-Western and pro-Moscow political factions. The ruling sparked wide criticism inside Ukraine and even Mr. Yanukovych called for the ban to be lifted.

The court gave the election panel two days to appeal, and Mrs. Tymoshenko said her party would be closely watching the commission and the government.

"We must remain vigilant that democracy is not overrun by manipulation," she said.

The committee reportedly rejected some 450 Tymoshenko candidates because they failed to provide the proper home addresses in their filings. The ruling effectively barred the bloc from kicking off its campaign in the six-week race.

Mrs. Tymoshenko's aides dismissed the decertification as a political gambit. The election panel's decision was also criticized by Adrian Severin, head of the EU-Ukraine cooperation committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Barring opposition candidates from the ballot "came as a great surprise and might [cast] doubt over the fairness of the electoral process," Mr. Severin said.

The Orange Revolution was sparked by a fraud-ridden presidential vote won by Mr. Yanukovych in late 2004. Street protests and international criticism led to a new vote, won by President Viktor Yushchenko.

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