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    COURT MAY STRIP IVAN RYBKIN OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE STATUS

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    MOSCOW, February 7 (RIA Novosti correspondent Nikolai Makarov) - The head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Alexander Veshnyakov does not rule out a possibility that Ivan Rybkin may be stripped of his presidential candidate status by a court decision.

    On Saturday, after the Central Election Commission registered Rybkin as a presidential candidate, the CEC head reminded the audience that his agency had sent to the Prosecutor General's Office evidence that some of the signatures collected in Rybkin's support were falsified.

    "If the investigation proves that a major portion of the signatures has been falsified, the Supreme Court may revoke Rybkin's registration in view of newly discovered facts," Veshnyakov said. "Whether it will happen or not, I do not know." The CEC head also reminded the audience that the Moscow Prosecutor's Office had already launched a criminal investigation into suspected falsification of signatures collected in support of Ivan Rybkin. "The criminal proceedings have been launched to investigate the fact of signature falsification, they do not target Rybkin personally," he stressed.

    The recent CEC session confirmed that 2,490,000 signatures had been collected to support Ivan Rybkin's nomination as a presidential candidate. CEC experts checked the validity of 800,000 of those and found that 209,000, or 26.16 percent, were falsified or not valid.

    Russia's presidential elections are scheduled for March 14, 2004.

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