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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 18:35 GMT
US hails 'step forward' for Russia
Good result for Prime Minister Putin's presidential ambitions
The United States has welcomed the results of Russia's elections, in which centrist parties made significant gains and look set to dominate the next parliament.

Russia at the Polls
What's at stake
Who's who
Russia's regions
With 98% of the votes counted, the Kremlin-backed Unity bloc was running just behind the Communists as the largest single party.

US national security adviser Sandy Berger called the elections "a step forward" which could make Russia's lower house more "pragmatic, less ideological".

Democratic practices are increasingly taking hold, to the great credit of the Russian people

James Foley, US State Dept

"We hope the election will enable the Duma to take up the economic reform issues," Mr Berger said.

"That will help to establish a stronger environment for outside investment ... and we can see capital flow back into Russia."

However despite their praise, American officials said pressure on Mr Putin over the continued fighting in Chechnya would not be relaxed.

Unity - created by the government less than three months ago - has more than 23% of the vote, only 1.1% less than the Communists, who dominated the previous Duma.
Share of vote with 90% of results in
Communist Party: 24.3%
Unity: 23.2%
Fatherland-All-Russia: 13.1%
Union of Rightwing Forces: 8.6%
Zhirinovsky Bloc: 6%
Yabloko: 6%

It is the centrists' strongest showing since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the Communists look set to remain the largest party, analysts say they will be unable to hold sway as they did during the previous parliamentary term.

The centre-left Fatherland-All-Russia (OVR), led by ex-premier Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, performed less well than many had expected at the start of the campaign. It is in third place with about 13%.

A possible anti-Kremlin union of OVR and the Communists could form the largest block in the Duma, with up to 170 of the 450 seats, but analysts say there are doubts such a coalition will take shape.

Russia's electoral system means the parties' overall share of the vote will not automatically be translated into a share of Duma seats as half are elected by constituency.

Popular war
Boris Yeltsin's supporters came out on top

Unity is nicknamed The Bear - a name which correspondents say was chosen deliberately to satisfy the current public craving for a party and a leader with a magic formula to restore order, sweep away corruption and make Russia great again.

The war in Chechnya has already reinforced that image, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's approval ratings have soared since his appointment four months ago.

Unity's showing is also a ringing endorsement of Mr Putin and his bid to succeed President Yeltsin next June.

Europe positive

The rest of Europe joined the US in welcoming the result, with observers saying the polls indicated stability and confidence in the democratic process.
Vote winner: But no US let-up on pressure for Chechnya dialogue

"In the end, the vigorous competition during the election contributed to a generally positive assessment by international observers, despite shortcomings," a joint statement from the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE said.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said: "It says something about the system in Russia where elections are becoming more common, where the turnout is so strong and the democratic institutions have become accepted as the norm."

But he refused to be swayed by what was also a significant vote of confidence for the hard line the Kremlin has taken in the Chechen campaign.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov no longer dominates

"The international community is going to have to continue to make the case to the Russian Government and to the Russian people about how the rest of the world sees this," he said, repeating Washington's view that the situation in Chechnya required political dialogue.

Russia's financial markets were also encouraged by hopes for reform, with shares rising more than 10% in late trading.

Turnout among the roughly 107 million registered voters across the country exceeded 60%.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Steve Rosenberg in Moscow
"The Communists have certainly lost out"
Andrew Harding in Moscow
"The Kremlin is already calling it a revolution"
See also:

21 Dec 99 | Media reports
20 Dec 99 | Europe
20 Dec 99 | Europe
19 Dec 99 | Europe
20 Dec 99 | Media reports
03 Dec 99 | Europe
13 Dec 99 | Europe
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