Russian Officials Take Steps to Prevent Fraud During Referendum With AM-CIS-Russia-Politics, Bjt

MOSCOW (AP) _ Election officials seeking to ensure the legitimacy of Russia's leadership referendum said they will encourage observers, seek to block last-day campaigning and try to stamp out vote buying.

''We don't want pressure exerted on election day or coercion to force people to vote. And no bribery 3/8'' said Vasily Kazakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission, on Friday.

The government agency will monitor voting during Sunday's referendum at each ballot box and allow independent observers - Russian lawmakers, members of various political groups and media representatives - to watch the voting and the counting, Kazakov told a news conference.

Foreign observers can be present at the polls but will be prohibited from watching the count, he said.

''The more observers we have, the less chance of mistakes and complaints,'' Kazakov said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Friday that more than 50 foreign non-government organizations have expressed interest in sending observers.

The Supreme Soviet, Russia's standing legislature, has allocated $3.1 million to cover the cost of the referendum, Kazakov said.

Some of that money will be used to distribute the multi-colored ballots - more than 400 million - by plane, train, helicopter and boat across Russia.

The more than 100,000 voting centers will send their results to regional headquarters in Russia's 89 districts, republics and autonomous territories, which in turn will send results to Moscow by telegram.

''We are using a slightly primitive method of counting votes - by hand - but it rules out malfunctions, and electronic methods can be pre- programmed,'' Kazakov said.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. throughout Russia's 11 time zones, Kazakov said.

Preliminary results will trickle in on Tuesday, although final results will not be known until May 3, Kazakov said.

So far, 105,539,421 people are eligible to vote, he said. That list does not include 600,000 voters in the breakaway republic of Chechenya, which declined to participate in the referendum, he said.

Those eligible must be Russian citizens over 18 years of age. Refugees from other former Soviet republics can vote only if they are citizens of the Russian Federation and have permanent residence permits.

Kazakov said measures will be taken to discourage vote-buying.

During the Soviet era, snack bars sold inexpensive or scarce items near polling stations to entice citizens to vote.

''We are not opposed to doing business in general on such days - it's a long-standing tradition - but any declaration that butter would be sold at half-price is wrong,'' Kazakov said.