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Ironduke
07 Dec 03,, 20:54
Exit poll: Pro-Kremlin party ahead

MOSCOW, Russia -- The pro-Kremlin United Russia party is leading by a large margin in Russia's parliamentary elections, the first exit polls have indicated.

A snapshot of 2.4 percent voters in the Far East of the country suggested that United Russia had scored 36.5 percent, Reuters reported on Sunday evening after voting stations closed.

The party of ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky came second with 15.6 percent, followed by the Communists with 13.2 percent.

According to another exit poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation for Russia's Channel One state television, United Russia had 37 percent and the Communists had 15 percent.

They were followed by the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia with 12 percent, the Homeland bloc with 9 percent, and the two Western-leaning parties with 6 percent each. It was not clear what percentage of the vote or regions this exit poll covered.

Earlier the country's elections chief declared that turnout was high enough for the ballot to be declared valid.

ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Alexander Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Commission, as saying 32 percent had voted by 2 p.m. local time (0900 GMT) on Sunday.

More than 25 percent of the 110 million registered voters must have voted before polling stations closed at 1800 GMT Sunday for the ballot to be considered valid.

The Kremlin indicated it feared a low turnout after colorless campaigning failed to seize the popular imagination.

Security was especially tight at polling stations across the country after a train bombing near Chechnya on Friday that killed more than 40 people and injured more than 150.

Itar-Tass news agency said 370,000 policeman were on the streets to ensure the poll passed peacefully.

Putin and his wife Lyudmila cast their votes at a research institute in southwest Moscow. Russia's first family had arrived early after staying awake half the night because their dog had given birth to puppies.

Asked by reporters who he had voted for, Putin said: "I think it can be considered as election campaigning so I won't say. But I think my preferences are already known."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a human rights body grouping 55 member states, said pre-election campaigning was marred by pro-Kremlin bias in the media.

In Yekaterinburg, the border between Europe and Asia, many said they saw little choice but to vote for Putin's party.

"I am voting for those who support authority. Only they have power to do something," businessman Alexei Belousov told Reuters. "They do not suit everyone, but there really is no alternative."

It was unclear if Friday's suspected suicide bombing on a train in southern Russia would affect voting patterns.

CNN's Jill Dougherty said: "It could help to solidify support for the president and government, but it also could raise questions as to how such an attack could take place and what government officials are doing to protect people."

Justice Minister Yuri Chaika pointed the finger at Chechen separatist guerrillas, who denied involvement.

Putin called the attack an effort to destabilize the country ahead of the election and pledged a crackdown. Law enforcement agencies said they would step up security across Russia.

http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/europe/12/07/russia.poll/index.html