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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Elections Canada investigators, backed by police, raided the Ottawa headquarters of the ruling Conservative Party on Tuesday, in a probe of its financing practices during the 2006 federal election campaign.
A crowd of reporters watched as two police officers arrived with a trolley-load of crates and entered one of the party's offices. The investigators were inside the offices for several hours, but no boxes were immediately seen being removed.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police stressed it was only there to assist Elections Canada, which regulates and monitors all federal elections.
"I can confirm that the commissioner of Elections Canada has requested the assistance of the RCMP in the execution of a search warrant," said John Enright, a spokesman for Elections Canada.
The Conservatives won power in 2006, partly by campaigning on accountability in the wake of a series of Liberal scandals.
The investigation was linked to Elections Canada's assertion that the Conservatives spent too much on advertising in the election campaign leading up to the January 23, 2006 vote, in which they won a minority government.
The party is engaged in a court battle with Elections Canada over its refusal to reimburse C$1.2 million ($1.2 million) in expenses that 67 Conservative candidates had claimed for television and radio advertisements produced by the national party.
Elections Canada says the Conservatives violated their spending limits through a series of financing transfers with local candidates, which the party is contesting.
"What will it take for the prime minister to finally admit that the Conservative Party broke the law?" Liberal leader Stephane Dion asked in Parliament.
The Conservatives questioned the necessity of the raid, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper said comes just before Conservative lawyers are to question Elections Canada officials in court.
"In this case our legal position is rock solid," he said.
Opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of stalling efforts by a House of Commons committee to investigate the transfer of advertising money.
A Liberal Party cameraman was seen videotaping the raid, which a party official gleefully noted to reporters comes during a week the Conservative government has labeled "Justice Week."
The Liberals trail the Conservatives currently in most polls, but are almost certain to run the video footage in future campaign ads if they decide to topple the government.
Additional reporting by Louise Egan and Allan Dowd; Editing by Bernadette Baum