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Russia's Presidential Election Valid on Heavy Turnout - 2004-03-14


Russians are voting in a presidential election, with the incumbent, Vladimir Putin, virtually guaranteed of a landslide victory.

Polling stations in each of Russia's 11 time zones opened at eight in the morning local time and were to close 12 hours later. Elections officials say voters have been lining up to cast ballots from the far eastern Kamchatka peninsula to the western Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Because of its immense size, voting in Russia will take about 22 hours. Preliminary results will be released after the last polling stations close at 18 hours Universal Time (today/Sunday).

Fifty percent voter turnout is require to make the election valid. Russian political and religious leaders, including Mr. Putin, have been urging the country's 109 million eligible voters to cast ballots.

Five candidates are challenging the incumbent to be Russia's next head of state, but opinion polls indicate Mr. Putin is all but assured of victory. Opinion polls routinely show Mr. Putin enjoys an approval rating of at least 70 percent, making him one of Russia's most popular leaders.

His main rivals include liberal Irina Khakamada, the communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov and nationalist Sergei Glazyev, but none are seen as having any hope of winning.

Mr. Putin, who is vying for a second term in office, first was elected in March 2000 with 53 percent of the vote.

At least 800 foreign observers are monitoring the election, including representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Information for this report is provided by AP.,AFP and Reuters.

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