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Last Updated: Monday, 15 March, 2004, 11:17 GMT
Russia's Putin sweeps to victory
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Putin vowed to safeguard "democratic achievements"
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been swept back to power, after thrashing his rivals in Sunday's poll.

With more than 99% of the ballots counted, Mr Putin had 71.2% support, while his nearest rival had only 13.7%.

At a news conference hours after the polls closed, Mr Putin vowed to push ahead with economic reforms.

He also dismissed criticism from US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had suggested that Mr Putin's rivals had been denied media access.

The image of Mr Putin as a 21st-Century tsar evidently appealed to a people whose country has historically been ruled by a firm fist from the centre, the BBC's Stephen Dalziel in Moscow says.

TV pictures of the fire at the Manezh exhibition hall (NTV)
A fire broke out at the Manezh exhibition hall near the Kremlin

But he adds that the lives of many Russian are still being blighted by the worst elements of the Soviet past which Mr Putin will need to address during his second term in office.

Shortly after polling stations closed at 2100 (1800GMT), a serious fire broke out in an exhibition hall near the Kremlin, destroying the building known as the Manezh.

Two firemen were killed fighting the flames when pieces of the roof crashed to the ground.

Emergency officials have not yet confirmed the cause of the blaze, but say it may have been due to an electrical fault.

'We shall not stop'

"All the democratic achievements will be guaranteed," Mr Putin told reporters in Moscow, wearing a black sweater and a black jacket with no tie.

RUSSIA VOTES FOR PUTIN
1 Vladimir Putin: 71.2%
2 Nikolai Kharitonov: 13.7%
3 Sergei Glazyev: 4.1%
4 Irina Khakamada: 3.9%
5 Against all: 3.5%
6 Oleg Malyshkin: 2%
7 Sergei Mironov: 0.8%

Central Election Committee figures (99% of votes counted)
"And we shall not stop with what has been achieved. We shall strengthen the multi-party system," he said.

Mr Putin also firmly brushed aside Mr Powell's criticism as "dictated by the domestic political balance" with upcoming US elections.

"In many so-called developed democracies there are also many problems with their own democratic and voting procedures," he said, referring to the controversial George W Bush's victory over Al Gore in the 2000 poll.

Russia's election officials said 64.3% of the registered voters cast ballots.

Analysts - who widely predicted Mr Putin's landslide - earlier said only a failure to reach the turnout requirement - 50% of the vote - would have prevented his victory.

We did our best
Communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov
Mr Putin's nearest rival, Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov, came only a distant second with 13.7%.

None of the other four contenders managed to poll even 5% of the vote. The only liberal candidate, economist Irina Khakamada, finished in fourth place with 3.9%.

Some 3.5% of votes were registered in the "against all" category, where voters could express their dissatisfaction with all six candidates.

Incentives

Sunday's poll was the third presidential election since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

About 95,000 polling stations across 11 time zones from the far east to Kaliningrad on the Baltic sea recorded the ballots of 109m registered voters.

Russian voters had been offered incentives to cast their ballots, from vouchers for free haircuts for pensioners to cinema tickets for young people, Reuters news agency reported.

Mr Putin's rival candidates have complained during the campaign about their lack of access to state media.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Mr Putin swept to a second term"



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