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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 December 2007, 18:06 GMT
Russians vote in general election
People vote in Russia
People have been encouraged to turn out and vote

Millions of Russians have voted in general elections expected to confirm President Vladimir Putin's popularity, but blighted by claims of fraud.

Polls have now closed across Russian regions spanning 11 time zones. Turnout is said to have been high.

Eleven parties are competing for places in the lower house, the Duma - though it is not clear how many will secure the 7% needed to qualify for seats.

Opposition parties have accused the government of stifling their campaigns.

President Vladimir Putin's party is predicted to win a landslide victory, boosting his bid to retain power after leaving the Kremlin next year.

Casting his vote at a polling station in Moscow, Mr Putin said that people should "vote for those people that you can trust".

How Russians will vote through the day

Independent monitors say their attempts to observe the poll have been hampered.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) abandoned its plans to send a big team of election observers to Russia after accusing the Russian government of imposing unacceptable restrictions and of deliberately delaying the issuing of visas. Russia denied the claims.

Only a much smaller group of MPs from the OSCE's parliamentary assembly were in attendance.

That meant just 330 foreign monitors were covering 95,000 polling stations.

'Misuses'

The British ambassador in Moscow, Tony Brenton, told the BBC it appeared there had been what he called imbalances and misuses of the administration in this election.

MAIN RIVAL PARTIES
United Russia
Communist Party of Russia
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
A Fair Russia (Mothers/Pensioners/Life)
Yabloko
Union of Right Forces

The largest party in the Duma going into the elections is United Russia, and it was hoping to maintain its dominance against the challenge from the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Yabloko party and others.

Mr Putin is at the top of the United Russia party list - opening the possibility that he could keep a grip on power from parliament even after stepping down as president next year.

Within Russia the media is banned from referring to parties, politicians, policies or opinion polls for the duration of the election.

Eastern start

Voting began at 0800 on Sunday (2000 GMT, Saturday) in Russia's easterly region of Kamchatka, about 6,000km (3,700 miles) east of Moscow.

The fact is, they're not just rigging the vote. They're raping the democratic system
Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov

Voting ended 22 hours later, when polls were closed in the enclave of Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, 11 time zones to the west.

Turnout was reported to be high, and had reached nearly 55% by 1400 GMT, the Central Elections Commission said.

In central Moscow a 43-year-old plumber, Muhammad Egemberdiyev, echoed a common sentiment when he said: "I voted for United Russia. Life's better under Putin."

"He's a good man," said Polina Amanyeva, 58, in Moscow.

Earlier, in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, voters turned out early despite the bitter weather.

The BBC's Richard Galpin said the elderly led the way - no doubt keen to take advantage of an offer of a free medical check up and advice on pensions and benefits.

The opposition has accused the government of offering incentives or intimidating people to vote in order to secure a big mandate. Teachers, doctors and students have reported being told they would suffer if they failed to vote.

Spoiled ballot

"These are the dirtiest, most irresponsible elections," complained veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

"I think the result was pretty much planned in advance," said Ivan Kudrashov, a voter in his 20s in Moscow.

In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, in the far east, Alexei Gutkin, a 42-year-old engineer, voted for the centre-right Union of Right Forces.

Election officials deliver a ballot box in Shor-Taiga, 4,000km east of Moscow

"United Russia is like a return to the Communist Party," he said. "I remember that time well."

The former chess grandmaster and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov spoke out vehemently against the election as he visited a polling station.

"The fact is, they're not just rigging the vote. They're raping the democratic system," he said, adding that he had spoiled his ballot paper by writing "Other Russia" on it, the name of his opposition organisation.

Opposition rallies have been broken up, parties have complained that their headquarters have been raided, and that state media has been a mouthpiece for the government.

More than 100 million voters are eligible to cast ballots at 95,000 polling stations across the country, with about 450,000 police officers reportedly on duty to ensure order.

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