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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 19:36 GMT
Putin declared election candidate
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin is all but guaranteed a second term in the March vote
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been formally declared a candidate in next month's presidential poll.

Mr Putin is expected to be comfortably re-elected for a second term when the country votes on 14 March.

Election officials registered his candidacy as an independent after checking 2.5 million signatures.

Four other independent candidates are waiting for their signatures to be verified, while two party candidates have been cleared automatically.

Most of Russia's best-known political names bowed out of the presidential race after Putin's United Russia party and its allies swept last December's parliamentary elections.

His biggest rival is expected to be another independent, left-wing nationalist Sergei Glazyev.

Election officials have until Sunday to finish checking the two million signatures by Glazyev supporters - and those of three other candidates.

They are the liberal politician Irina Khakamada, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov and a former head of the Russian Security Council, Ivan Rybkin.

Mr Rybkin is backed financially by the controversial businessman Boris Berezovsky, who currently lives in exile in Britain.

The Communist Party supports Nikolai Kharitonov, and former boxer Oleg Malyshkin is the candidate of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Neither Mr Kharitonov nor Mr Malyshkin has had to submit signatures because they are running on behalf of parties represented in Russia's lower house of parliament.

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