KIEV, Ukraine — The Supreme Court declared the results of Ukraine's disputed presidential run-off election invalid and ruled Friday that the run-off should be repeated by Dec. 26, bringing cheers from tens of thousands of opposition supported massed in Kiev's main square.
The ruling, made after five days of hearings by the court's 18 justices, was a major victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who had rejected the government's demands that an entirely new election be held.
Supporter of Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko waves a victory sign as he shouts during a rally on Kiev's Independence Square, December 3, 2004. Ukraine's top judges considered on Friday whether to confirm or annul a contested presidential election that has plunged the former Soviet state into turmoil and kindled distrust between Russia and the West. REUTERS/Peter Andrews
The opposition had pinned its hopes on the court's ruling in its bid to overturn the results of the Nov. 21 run-off vote in which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner. The opposition said the vote was rigged to cheat Yushchenko of victory.
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma had been pressing for an entirely new election, apparently in hopes of replacing Yanukovych with a stronger candidate.
Presiding Judge Anatoly Yarema said a new run-off vote should be held be held by Dec. 26.
When the ruling was announced, the opposition supporters who have massed for nearly two weeks in Independence Square waved orange flags and chanted "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!" as the crackle of fireworks was heard.
Yushchenko's lawyers in court were jubilant.
"This is a great victory of all people who have been standing at the square, a great victory for Ukrainian democracy," said Mykola Katerinchuk, the Yushchenko lawyer who wrote the appeal.
Another Yushchenko ally, Yuri Klyuchkovsky, called the verdict a "historic decision that opens the way for a fair solution to the crisis."
Representatives from Yanukovych and the Central Election Commission left the courthouse before the judges announced their decision.
The runoff had triggered a massive political crisis, with tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters maintaining a round-the clock vigil in the capital for the 12th day Friday and laying siege to official buildings.
The crisis has strained relations between Russia, which has staunchly backed Yanukovych, and the West, which has refused to accept the official results.
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press