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Court freezes Ukraine election result

Kiev, Nov. 25 (Reuters): Ukraine's highest court today blocked the installation as President of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, whose contested election has led to mass protests, and said it would examine a complaint by his liberal challenger.

The Supreme Court rejected the official publication of election results that showed Yanukovich had beaten Viktor Yushchenko in a run-off election last Sunday. In its ruling, the Supreme Court appeared to turn the tide of events in favour of Yushchenko, who has brought thousands of supporters on to the streets after alleging he was cheated out of the election.

A president cannot be sworn in without the result being officially published.

'The court ruling bars the Central Election Commission from officially publishing the results of the election and proceeding with any other action connected with this,' the court said in a statement. The court said it would examine Yushchenko's complaint that the election of the Moscow-backed prime minister had been engineered by mass cheating.

Yushchenko vowed no let-up in protests to overturn the election result and pressed forward with plans for a national strike to bring transport and industry to a halt.

But in the divided state's eastern regions, which account for most of Ukraine's economic muscle, coal miners pledged support for Yanukovich and said they would not join any strike.

The strike, also intended to shut down schools and halt transit of goods, was not yet under way but Yushchenko's team said 'decrees' launching it would be announced later.

Some activists had already started blocking highways in four widely separated regions of the former Soviet state.

Under the court ruling, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who endorsed Yanukovich only after long reflection, would stay on in power for now.

Kuchma yesterday warned Ukraine could plunge into civil war and urged the West to stay out of the country's affairs. In The Hague, Ukraine's crisis dominated summit talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the EU presidency, who are at odds on the issue.

Putin, who congratulated Yanukovich as the summit began, later said outsiders had no moral right to push Ukraine into 'mayhem'. Ukrainian courts, he said, should resolve any dispute.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski also said he would head for Ukraine within days to help mediate. Poland, a Nato and EU member, is Ukraine's main European sponsor.

The West has made clear to Ukraine it regards the election as fraudulent. Apart from sharp EU criticism, the US has warned Ukraine there could be consequences for their ties.

Election officials, defying calls by the West and tens of thousands of demonstrators on the streets of Kiev, declared Yanukovich the winner in the run-off. 'We will not leave this square until we secure victory,' Yushchenko told at least 100,000 supporters crowded in to Kiev's Independence Square and spilling into adjacent streets. 'My team and I will stay here even if there are only 15 of us left. We will stand here until our victory,' he said.

As Ukraine seethed with turmoil for a fourth successive day, the central bank said it would support banks if they were hit by a run on deposits, sparked by political uncertainty.

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