Prague, 3 December 2004 -- Tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters thronging Kyiv's Independence Square erupted in cheers tonight after hearing news of the Supreme Court's ruling.
The ruling after five days of court deliberations backed arguments by Yushchenko's camp that the vote had been subject to systematic fraud. It also appeared to run counter to what outgoing President Leonid Kuchma had sought in nearly two weeks of bitter wrangling.
Announcing the decision, Supreme Court chairman Yarema told reporters that a rerun of the second round of the elections that pitted Yushchenko against Yanukovych would be held by 26 December: "To order the Central Election Commission to call a repeat of the [runoff] elections of the president of Ukraine in the period determined by Part 1 of Article 85 of the Ukrainian law on presidential elections [three weeks], starting from December 5, 2004."
The announcement appeared to put an end to days of speculation regarding what form of reelection, if any, Ukraine would stage.
While Yushchenko had pressed hard for a repeat of the runoff, Kuchma and his hand-picked successor Yanukovych had sought a completely new election, which would have required up to three months to be organized and kept Kuchma in office for that time.
Yesterday, Kuchma had secured the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin for his position in talks in Moscow.
The Russian leader, who had receded from the debate in recent days, said a repeat of the 21 November runoff would "yield nothing" and backed Kuchma's call for a fresh election: "We express our support for everything you are doing to strengthen the country and to find a way out of the crisis, and I want to assure you that Russia will always be with Ukraine and will always support and help Ukraine in all its efforts aimed at stabilizing the situation in the country."
Putin's remarks on the eve of the court's ruling left analysts wondering if Russia would have a final say in a crisis that has strained relations between Moscow and the West.
But the court ruling was greeted as a victory by Yushchenko's camp and his tens of thousands of supporters who, for 12 days have staged massive street protests in Kyiv.
In Independence Square, the protesters waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian and orange opposition flags and chanted "Yu-shchen-ko! Yu-shchen-ko!" The crackle of fireworks could be heard in the distance.
Outside the courtroom, Yushchenko's lawyers were jubilant.
Mykola Katerinchuk, the Yushchenko lawyer who wrote the appeal, said: "This is a great victory of all people who have been standing at the square, a great victory for Ukrainian Democracy."
Meanwhile, representatives from Yanukovych and the official Central Election Commission left the courthouse before the judges announced their decision.