Russia votes in Duma Parliamentary elections

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Moscow, Dec 2: Russia is voting today in the Duma Parliamentary elections, the results of which are expected to set the tone for the presidential polls in early next year, when President Vladimir Putin will hand over power to his successor.

Polling booths have been open in Moscow and St Petersburg for several hours. About 110 million voters in 11 time zones across the country are making their choice between 11 parties, for the 450-member lower House of Russian Parliament.

About 49,000 polling booths opened in a phased manner across all the time zones, amid tight security, Russian TV channels reported.

Some 45,000 police officers have been deployed on duty throughout the country to maintain law and order.

Voting began at 0800 hrs (0130 IST) today in Russia's easterly region of Kamchatka, about 6,000 km east of Moscow.

Voting is not set to end until 22 hours later, when polls are due to close in the enclave of Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, 11 time zones to the west.

In the far east of the country the turnout already seems high, with almost 40 per cent of voters casting their ballots by early afternoon, Russian news agencies reported.

Official opinion polls said the pro-Kremlin United Russia party will gain a clear majority in the Duma. The Public Opinion Fund said 63 per cent of the electorate planned to back the ''party of power''.

The only other parties expected to overcome the seven per cent threshold required to enter Parliament are the Communist Party, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and Just Russia, led by Kremlin loyalists.

Mr Putin's decision to head the United Russia's party list has given the bloc a major boost.

Opposition parties have accused the government of stifling their campaigns. Independent monitors say their attempts to observe the polls have been hampered.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has sent only a much smaller group of MPs from the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly. Just 330 foreign monitors will cover 95,000 polling stations.

The first exit polls and official results will be known as the last polling station closes in Russia's westernmost region of Kaliningrad at 21.00 local time.

UNI

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