ZURICH - Fifa's ethics watchdog on Thursday suspended the two most powerful men in football, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, for 90 days in a sensational new blow to the sport's scandal-tainted governing body. Secretary-general Jerome Valcke was also suspended for 90 days while South Korean tycoon Chung Mong-Joon, a candidate for the Fifa presidency along with Platini, was banned outright for six years.

While Fifa said the suspensions were "provisional", the action almost certainly signals the end of the reign of Fifa president Blatter and deals a major blow to UEFA leader Platini's hopes of taking over. Issa Hayatou head of the Confederation of African Football, a Blatter ally, was put in charge of the multi-billion dollar body.

Fifa said Blatter, who has been its president since 1998, had been "relieved of all his duties" during the 90 days. Blatter is under investigation by Swiss prosecutors for criminal mismanagement. The four football powerbrokers "are banned from all football activities on a national and international level. The bans come into force immediately", a statement said.

Lawyers for Blatter said he was "disappointed" the ethics watchdog had failed to follow its own rules by not letting him give evidence. "President Blatter looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will demonstrate that he did not engage in any misconduct, criminal or otherwise," said a statement by Zurich lawyers Lorenz Erni, Erni Brun Forrer and US-based Richard Cullen.

Blatter and French football legend Platini have faced mounting pressure since Swiss prosecutors started their investigation on September 25. Platini, who has run UEFA, has been named in the investigation because of a two million dollar payment he received in 2011. The Frenchman has denied any wrongdoing and demanded an inquiry into the circumstances of the investigation against him.

Platini registered his candidacy Thursday for the February 26 vote to find a successor to Blatter. But it will be up to an electoral commission to decide now whether he can stand, officials said. German Football Federation Wolfgang Niersbach said Blatter should resign definitively and Platini must consider whether he "can maintain" his candidacy for Fifa.

The suspensions can be renewed for another 45 days when they run out in January, which would take the exclusion until just before the Fifa election to be held on February 26. Chung, who was also fined 100,000 Swiss francs ($100,000) would be automatically ruled out of the presidential race.

The scion of the Hyundai family was found to have contravened rules while lobbying for South Korea's bid for the 2022 World Cup which was awarded to Qatar in a controversial 2010 vote. Chung has threatened to take legal action over the ban.

Fifa's crisis has been mounting since May when US authorities issued charges against 14 Fifa officials and sports marketing executives over more than $150 million in bribes given for broadcasting and marketing contracts. Seven Fifa officials were detained at a Zurich hotel two days before Blatter was reelected for a fifth term on May 30. As the storm grew, Blatter announced that he would stand down, but only when the election is held. Rivals have accused him since of seeking to cling to power.

Blatter said in an interview with a German magazine this week that he was determined to stay until February 26. "I am convinced that evil will come into the light and good will triumph," he said. Platini and Chung have said they are victims of a campaign, which they suspect comes from within Fifa, to derail their bids to become Fifa president.

Media across Europe had predicted that the 90-day suspensions would be made. Platini called it an "insidious" leak that appeared to come from an official Fifa source. He said it "is essentially an attempt to damage my reputation" and that Fifa has "flouted" its own rules. Platini said he had still registered his official papers to be a candidate in the Fifa race on Thursday. The deadline is October 26.

Chung said on Monday at a London sports convention that he was the victim of a "smear" campaign by Blatter who he described as "a hypocrite and a liar". He threatened legal action against Blatter for "embezzlement" by not declaring his salary and also in case he was stopped from running in the election.

Prince Ali bin al Hussein, a former Fifa vice president from Jordan, and Zico, a former Brazilian footballer and sports minister, are also in the election. Observers have predicted that the crisis could bring forward another candidate, with Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa widely touted. Sexwale, a former associate of the late Nelson Mandela, is head of a Fifa commission trying to bring peace between the Israeli and Palestinian football associations.