MOSCOW -- Russian election authorities have formally disqualified Grigory Yavlinsky from running in the March 4 presidential election.
Yavlinsky is a leading figure and founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party and a critic of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Putin is seeking a return to the Kremlin and a third term as president in the vote.
The Central Election Commission (CEC), announcing its decision on January 27, said it could not accept more than 25 percent of the signatures Yavlinsky gathered from supporters to qualify for registration because they were either photocopies of originals or fakes.
The CEC also rejected the application of Irkutsk Governor Dmitry Mezentsev for the same reason.
Russian law on presidential elections requires would-be candidates to provide at least 2 million valid signatures in order to be registered. If more than 5 percent of a would-be candidate's signatures are determined to be invalid, the application is denied.
Yabloko Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin said the party will appeal the CEC decision in court.
Speaking earlier this week, Yavlinsky claimed that a decision to disqualify him -- which had been expected -- would be taken because the authorities wanted to prevent him from running in order to block genuine electoral competition.
"This decision is strictly political and it has nothing to do with the signatures or their quality," he said.
Russian Election Commission secretary Nikolai Konkin indicated that Yavlinsky could appeal the commission's decision.
"The candidates have the right to lodge a complaint with the Supreme Court within 10 day of the Central Election Commission's decision to deny them registration," he said.
Five Candidates Registered
The decision to bar Yavlinsky will prevent his party from fielding observers in the March 4 election.
The decision against Yavlinsky follows a series of mass protests in Russia against alleged fraud in December's parliamentary elections.
Observers say that election was slanted in favor of Putin's ruling party.
Yabloko, which Yavlinsky founded in 1993, had been able to deploy thousands of observers in the parliamentary election.
On February 4, the opposition plans another protest in Moscow in which thousands of protesters are expected to take part.
Five candidates have been registered to run in the Russian presidential election.
Besides Putin, they include three veteran party leaders -- Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov, Sergei Mironov of A Just Russia party, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia -- as well as billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, an independent candidate who has so far refrained from directly critizing Putin.
Both Prokhorov and Zyuganov have come out in support of Yavlinsky's right to campaign, with Prokhorov saying the requirement to submit 2 million signatures to be registered should be abolished.
Putin, who served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008, is seen as certain to win the election, but his public approval ratings have recently seen a decline.
Compiled from agency reports