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Monday, 27 March, 2000, 11:47 GMT
Cautious welcome for Putin
World leaders are giving a cautious welcome to Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential elections after the former KGB agent fought off a stronger-than-expected challenge by the Communists
But there have been calls for Mr Putin to urgently address the continuing conflict in Chechnya.
Mr Putin narrowly held an absolute majority with 52.5% after nearly 95% of the votes had been counted. He is certain to avoid a run-off next month against his Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov, who was in second place with 29.4%.
"We can say that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was elected president of the Russian Federation," said Central Election Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov. "The candidates' scores will not change significantly."
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Washington would judge Mr Putin on his actions rather than on his career in the secret police.
"He is obviously a very complicated man, who has several strands to his background, but as we see him now, he is being very pragmatic, he is dealing with Russia's problems," Mrs Albright said.
French President Jacques Chirac sent a message of congratulations in which he urged Mr Putin "to end the military operation in Chechnya and make a determined effort to find a political solution to the problem."
China was among countries which were more enthusiastic about the result. President Jiang Zemin sent a message of "heartfelt congratulations" to Mr Putin and praised him for developing Sino-Russian relations, "for the constant expansion and deepening of the strategic partnership between the two countries".
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair congratulated Mr Putin in a 15 minute telephone call, during which Mr Blair stressed the need to bring an end to the Chechen war.
After news of his victory was announced, Mr Putin pledged to work on a detailed programme to end the economic chaos that has plagued Russia since the fall of Communism.
"(The result) gives us an additional push towards working to achieve even better results," Interfax news agency quoted Mr Putin as saying at a meeting of deputy premiers and security chiefs.
"In the near future, (we must) put together all our work (on an economic programme) into a weighty document," RIA news agency quoted him as saying.
Mr Zyuganov accused the government of falsifying the results and claimed that the Communist vote exceeded more than 40%.
"They have set up a zone of blanket fraud to cheat citizens," Mr Zyuganov said.
The BBC's Andrew Harding in Moscow said there was more relief than euphoria when the acting leader arrived at his campaign headquarters earlier on Monday.
As it became clear he was doing well, Mr Putin told journalists that a first-round victory would give him a stronger moral mandate.
But he warned Russians against expecting too much from him.
"Well, perhaps no-one should pin their hopes on a miracle. In any case, I have no right to say that miracles will start to occur tomorrow. I believe that the situation is difficult in that the level of expectations is really very high," he said.
He also acknowledged the Communists' strong showing, and said that his government would have to take popular discontent into account.
"That means that our policy must be more balanced, take into account the existing realities and aim at increasing living standards," he said.
Correspondents say the results appeared to reflect greater support for the acting leader as the vote count moved west. The first returns, mostly from the far east, had given him only 45%.
In his hometown of St Petersburg, Mr Putin garnered more than 62% of the vote, although he did less well in the capital Moscow, where voters gave him 46%.
About 68.8% of the eligible voting population turned out on Sunday, confounding earlier fears that apathy might render the poll invalid. A new election would have been necessary had voter turnout not reached 50%.
Victory means Mr Putin will lead Russia for at least the next four years with sweeping powers.
Election officials say he will be inaugurated on 5 May, and only after that will he be able to name his government.
Mr Putin has vowed to rebuild the authority of the Russian state while pressing on with market reforms.
Some liberals fear he will roll back hard-won democratic freedoms - a charge he has denied.
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