White House calls for fair elections in Russia

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WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) The White House today urged the Russian government to conduct upcoming elections in a ''free, fair and democratic'' manner, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could be a future prime minister.

''This is ultimately a matter for the people of Russia to decide,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters when asked for reaction to Putin's remarks. ''We will be paying very close attention to the upcoming elections in Russia.'' Putin's comments fitted a scenario rumored for some time in Moscow -- that the popular president could continue to wield power from the prime minister's chair after he leaves office next year, installing a loyal but weaker figure as president.

Perino said administration officials had only just seen reports of what Putin had said earlier on Monday.

''We urge them to conduct (upcoming elections) in a manner that is free, fair and democratic,'' she said, but declined any further comment.

US President George W Bush and other senior US officials have criticized Putin in recent years for what they say is backsliding on democratic reforms in Russia.

REUTERS AM BST2326

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