Putin says US is undermining poll

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The Independent Online

Days before parliamentary elections, President Vladimir Putin charged that Washington pressured an international security group to not send vote monitors, and warned that no outsider would be allowed to stick his "runny nose" into Russia's affairs.

Polls predict the main pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, will win in a landslide, allowing Putin to claim a mandate to continue leading the country after he steps down as president next spring.

The campaign was marked over the weekend by the violent breakup of anti-Putin demonstrations and the detention of scores of protesters and opposition leaders, including former chess champion Garry Kasparov, now serving five days in jail.

Putin said Monday that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, a branch of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had succumbed to US pressure in deciding not to send observers to monitor Sunday's vote.

"According to the information we have, once again this was done on the advice of the US State Department, and we will undoubtedly take this into account in our relations with that country," Putin said.

Putin said the OSCE was trying to undermine Russia's upcoming election. "Their goal clearly is to make the elections look illegitimate, but they won't succeed," Putin said at a meeting sponsored by United Russia.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected Putin's claims, though he said US officials had talked to OSCE representatives, telling them "this is your decision."

"So there was no interference ... absolutely none," he said.

The OSCE election monitoring office said Nov. 16 that it would not send a mission to observe Russia's vote because Moscow had not issued visas in time and had created other obstacles. Russia had also restricted the OSCE mission to 70 observers — far fewer than in previous elections.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the OSCE's monitoring arm, called Putin's accusations "nonsense."

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