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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 12:09 GMT
Russia election campaign kicks off
President Putin
Putin's supporters are ahead in opinion polls
Campaigning for Russia's general election has kicked off, in the shadow of a row over political freedom.

Candidates from 23 parties wanting to win seats in Russia's lower house parliament on 7 December are embarking on a series of TV and radio debates and advertising campaigns.

But the campaign comes against a backdrop of allegations of Kremlin authoritarianism, after the arrest of Yukos oil boss and political funder Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The parliamentary poll will be followed in March by a presidential race, adding huge significance and pressure to this campaign.

'Dirty election'

Communists and their allies are struggling to build on their bloc of 110 seats in the 450-seat parliament, the Duma, but say they fear the election will be the dirtiest ever seen in Russia.

Parties supporting President Vladimir Putin, including the biggest, United Russia, have more than twice that number of seats.

Latest opinion polls have suggested United Russia is holding onto a strong lead.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Critics say the arrest of Yukos boss was linked to elections
Critics of Mr Putin say the arrest of Mr Khodorkovsky took place for political rather than criminal reasons, as he has been funding minor opposition parties.

The start of campaigning coincides with the anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution.

A survey conducted to mark the occasion suggested that many of today's Russians would not try to halt the revolution.

More than 40% of those questioned said that if the revolution happened today they would either support the Bolsheviks or co-operate with them.

More than a quarter of those polled said they would do nothing - just wait and see.

Only one in 10 would fight the uprising.

Democracy doubts

Another survey suggested that more than a third of Russians backed the idea of increased state control over the media.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg says that for many people in Russia, democracy is not seen as something which has made their lives any better.

Debates featuring the Russian candidates will be broadcast from next Monday on three federal television stations and three radio stations.

Campaigning continues until 5 December, and no opinion polls are allowed to be published after 2 December.

Already there are specific allegations of dirty tricks.

The Russian Communist Party is complaining after two independent candidates changed their surnames to "Kprf" - the party's initials - in an alleged attempt to pick up votes from confused or elderly electors.

Putin vows to combat corruption
06 Nov 03  |  Europe
Putin denies Yukos licence threat
05 Nov 03  |  Business
Profile: Yukos' new chief
04 Nov 03  |  Business
Putin defends Yukos arrest
04 Nov 03  |  Business

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