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Putin blames U.S. for withdrawal of election monitors

Associated Press
Published November 27, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. State Department of pressuring international monitors to stay away from Sunday's parliamentary elections, a decision that hurts the credibility of balloting that is expected to bolster his power.

The election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had said Russia has so severely restricted its ability to watch the elections that it could not monitor them.

But Putin blamed the State Department for persuading the OSCE not to send the monitors in order to delegitimize the vote, saying at a political meeting Monday that relations with Washington would be affected. He also warned that Russia was building up its military so that "no one puts his runny nose into our affairs."

The OSCE and the State Department rejected Putin's allegations.

A landslide being predicted for the Putin-backed United Russia Party is expected to set the stage for the popular president to remain "national leader." Putin is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term in presidential elections on March 2.

Anti-Putin demonstrations were broken up over the weekend by riot police who detained scores of protesters and opposition leaders, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, one of Putin's fiercest critics.

Restrictions ahead of Sunday's election have also been criticized abroad. Other groups are observing the election but none that is seen to be as credible and authoritative as the OSCE monitors.

Putin told the meeting sponsored by United Russia that the OSCE had succumbed to U.S. pressure in deciding not to send observers to monitor the vote. "Their goal clearly is to make the elections look illegitimate, but they won't succeed," he said.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, called Putin's accusations "nonsense."

"This decision was a decision that was only made based on the fact that we were not receiving any visas and were unable to do a meaningful observation of the election," he said.

[Last modified November 27, 2007, 01:09:17]

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