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Russia’s Election Commission Opens

December 5, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) _ About 109 million Russians are eligible to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, an official said Friday at the opening of a center for journalists and international observers.

A total of 48 countries have accredited observers to monitor the elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, with the United States sending the largest delegation _ 134 people, a foreign ministry official, Leonid Golubev, told the Interfax news agency.

Additionally, some 1,150 observers from 35 foreign organizations will fan out across Russia’s vast territory, Golubev said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe alone has sent more than 400 people to monitor the elections, he noted.

Up to 800,000 Russians will monitor the elections for the 23 parties and blocs or nearly 2,000 candidates running in local district races.

At the election center, journalists were given a demonstration of how the ``Elections 2003″ automated vote-counting system will collect data from the 94,000 polling stations across Russia and transmit it to the Central Election Commission in Moscow.

Alexander Veshnyakov, the commission’s chairman, said that in the Ural Mountains region of Bashkortostan, a large quantity of false ballots were found at a print shop belonging to the regional administration.

``The preliminary investigation also shows that state bureaucrats of this republic were involved,″ he said. It was not yet known whether all the false ballots have been found, he said.

Many observers, including some from the OSCE, have expressed concern that results may be falsified in Bashkortostan, where Murtaza Rakhimov, president of the republic, is seeking re-election.

Preliminary results are expected to be announced at 9 p.m. Moscow time (1 p.m. EST) Sunday after polling places close in Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost territory, which is wedged between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast.

In war-ravaged Chechnya, where the presence of foreign observers will be limited due to security risks, the 428 polling stations for the republic’s 553,000 eligible voters are ready and strictly guarded, the head of Chechnya’s election commission, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Approximately 1 million servicemen throughout Russia are eligible to vote, including some 33,000 who are serving in Chechnya. More than 7,000 servicemen in remote parts of Chechnya voted early.