UKRAINE'S Supreme Court has handed a major victory to opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, cancelling last month's disputed run-off vote between Yushchenko and his Kremlin-backed rival and sending opposition supporters into jubilant celebrations.
December 4, 2004.
*** The court decision, which set December 26 for a repeat of the run-off, was a slap to Russia, which had strongly supported Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, fearing Ukraine would tilt further to the West under Mr Yushchenko.
Parliament was to meet in a marathon all-weekend session to pass legislation corresponding to the Supreme Court verdict.
Mr Yushchenko's supporters are pushing for changes to the membership of the 15-member Central Election Commission and to election law, both of which they say are necessary to help prevent fraud.
After the court issued its decision yesterday evening, downtown Kiev took on the air of a massive rock concert, with hundreds of thousands of Mr Yushchenko backers chanting his name, blowing horns and waving balloons and orange flags - his campaign colour.
"We have proven that we are a nation that could defend our choice," Mr Yushchenko told his supporters gathered at Kiev's Independence Square.
"Justice and freedom are coming back to Ukraine thanks to you, real heroes."
The crowd, which steadily grew larger after the decision, chanted "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!" during his pauses, and he responded by blowing kisses.
Then the throng struck up the national anthem.
People shouted approval as Mr Yushchenko urged outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to immediately fire Mr Yanukovich and called for disbanding the Central Election Commission that had declared Mr Yanukovich the winner of the November 21 run-off.
"Find the courage to do that - stop tormenting the nation," Mr Yushchenko said.
The Supreme Court found the run-off was distorted by abuses such as tampering with voters' lists and people voting more than once, and it determined that "the violation of the principles of the election law ... make it unable to determine the voters' will".
The court's ruling was a sharp rebuke to Mr Kuchma, who had backed Mr Yanukovich. It also came as a slap to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who appeared with Mr Yanukovich during the campaign and had already congratulated Mr Yanukovich on winning.
Mr Yushchenko's appeal pointed to evidence of rampant fraud in eastern regions near the border with Russia, where Mr Yanukovich got most of his votes.
Mr Yanukovich's representative in court, Stepan Havrysh, said the verdict was a "political decision" that wasn't backed by evidence.
"The court yielded to pressure and was driven by emotions," Mr Havrysh said.
Neither Mr Kuchma nor Mr Yanukovich commented on the court's verdict, and Mr Putin, on a state visit to India, also kept mum. A day earlier, Mr Putin lashed out at Mr Yushchenko's push for a rerun.
The court ruling cannot be appealed, and the repeat vote is to be held nationwide, rather than only in the districts specifically challenged by Mr Yushchenko.
Mr Kuchma had pushed for a completely new election in what his critics said was an apparent hope of fielding a new candidate more popular than Mr Yanukovich.
The Associated Press