Heavy turnout reported as Russians vote in prez election

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Moscow, Mar 2 (UNI) Russia today witnessed a heavy turnout in the presidential election, according to media reports.

More than 109 million Russians are registered to vote in the election at a total of 96,300 polling stations across 11 time zones in the country, including 364 in 142 countries.

Polling stations in the Far East opened at 0800 hrs in a vote pitting Putin-backed First Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev against three challengers, including Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Russian Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Democratic Party candidate Andrei Bogdanov. Russian TV channels reported voting has been steady in the Far East throughout the day.

Various exit polls have predicted a virtual walkover win for Medvedev. If elected, Medvedev has promised to make incumbent President Vladimir Putin his Prime Minister.

Preliminary results for the Far East and Kamchatka region will be known tonight after 2100 hrs Moscow time when the last polling stations close in Russia's westernmost territory, the aliningrad region. Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) has promised to announce preliminary results not later than 1000 hrs Moscow time tomorrow. The CEC chairman Vladimir Churov said the final official vote results may be summed up on March 7, 2008.

A candidate has to receive more than half of the votes of voters who took part in the elections. Otherwise, a second round is to be held. Polling stations opened at 0800 hrs in Moscow, the biggest region in Russia as to the number of voters. Over six million people are registered as eligible voters here.

The main European election monitoring body from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) earlier decided not to send a delegation to monitor the election.

It said the Russian authorities were planning to impose unacceptable restrictions on its work.

UNI XC ARB KN1528

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