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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 23:24 GMT
Russia to limit election monitors
By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow

Mikhail Kasyanov on 16 January
Mikhail Kasyanov has described the upcoming vote as a farce
Russia is to limit foreign monitors at its presidential election in March to half the number that observed the last presidential poll in 2004.

Four hundred observers will be able to monitor the vote, election commission head Vladimir Churov announced.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, will be restricted to just 70 observers.

The OSCE - the largest European monitoring group - sent almost 400 observers last time.

The issue of foreign observers has become a source of friction between Russia and the West after Russian authorities cut the numbers right down for the parliamentary election last month.

This, along with delays to visas and restrictions on what could be said publicly about the conduct of the election, led the OSCE to abandon its mission to Russia.

Visas

Now the OSCE is once again debating whether it is worth coming to Moscow - this time for the presidential election that takes place in less than five weeks.

A spokesman for the election monitoring wing of the OSCE told the BBC they would apply for visas once they receive the invitation.

But they would only make a final decision whether to go to Russia once they know what kind of access they will be allowed and how quickly they can get on the ground.

One opposition politician, Mikhail Kasyanov, has already described the presidential election as a farce after the election commission rejected his application to run as a candidate.

Mr Churov said the former prime minister could appeal to the supreme court.

He added that the decision to disqualify him was for legal reasons and not because of pressure from the Kremlin.

The election commission said more than 13% of the signatures supporting Mr Kasyanov's application were not valid - something Mr Kasyanov denies.



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