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Russia bars liberal candidate from presidential election

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Election official Nikolai Konkin, who announced the ruling today, insisted that it was purely a matter of technical propriety. Yavlinsky's supporters collected well over the two million signatures needed on nomination petitions in the 25 days allotted, but upon examination, officials found about a quarter of them to be invalid, Mr. Konkin said.

Yabloko's press spokesperson, Igor Yakovlev, says the party collected the necessary number of signatures despite the short time frame and harassment from local authorities. He says that disqualification of signatures is one of the standard methods from the "managed democracy" toolbox for keeping genuine challengers off the ballot.

"The decision not to register Yavlinsky is purely political, and we believe it was taken by Putin himself," says Mr. Yakovlev. "That's the way the system works. But if Yavlinsky is off the ballot, it means these presidential election lose whatever was left of their legitimacy."

Many critics believe the decision to block Yavlinsky was made to favor Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, who announced his candidacy last month and easily sailed through the registration process this week.

Mr. Prokhorov is youthful and energetic and talks a liberal line that might well appeal to Russia's disgruntled urban middle class. But he is also one of Russia's widely-despised "oligarchs," who earned his fortune in the murky 1990s privatizations of Soviet state assets, and a jet-setting playboy who, critics insist, stands zero chance of appealing to restive voters in Russia's far-flung conservative and working-class hinterland.

Prokhorov has denounced the decision to bar Yavlinsky from running.

"I have always stood for fair competition in politics," Prokhorov wrote on his LiveJournal blog about the Yavlinsky ruling. "This is what our citizens, who've been going to rallies, are demanding. A victory in the presidential elections should be won only by fair means."

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