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Official spying on election candidate exposed

A blunder by undercover policemen tailing Ukraine's leading democratic contender in the presidential election has led to more embarrassment for a regime that blends sinister authoritarianism with banana republic-style bungling.

Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the "Our Ukraine" coalition and the man tipped to win October's presidential elections - if they are fair - has been on the campaign trail in Crimea. On Tuesday he was leading supporters cleaning up rubbish near Yalta as part of his "Let's Clean Ukraine of Dirt" campaign, a not-so veiled reference to the corruption of the present regime.

Bodyguards assigned to him by the government noticedmen in a car filming the group. The bodyguards stopped the three men who were found to be carrying credentials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVS) and instructions from a senior MVS officer ordering them to follow Mr Yushchenko.

The car boot contained five sets of fake number plates and the car held recordings made with a long-range microphone of Mr Yushchenko's conversations during his visit to Crimea.

Mr Yushchenko has complained to the general-prosecutor's office. He said the events provided more evidence that Ukraine was increasingly becoming "a totalitarian and lawless state".

The authorities are making it difficult for him to campaign, he says. Buildings booked for meetings have been closed by sudden fire inspections.