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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 16:46 GMT
OSCE rejects Russian poll offer
The ODIHR wants to start work no later than 18 February
Europe's top election watchdog has rejected Russian concessions designed to avert a monitoring boycott of the presidential election on 2 March.

Russia now says observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) can arrive in Russia on 20 February.

That is a week earlier than Moscow originally wanted.

But the OSCE said the offer did not go far enough, insisting on 15 February as the start date.

Russia has also accepted an increase in the number of observers, from 70 to 75.

Last week, the OSCE said Russia's restrictions would make it impossible for monitors to do their job properly.

Moscow talks

"We are ready to agree to start work no later than 18 February," said Curtis Budden, a spokesman for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), quoted by Russia's Itar-Tass news agency.

Vladimir Putin (left) and Dmitry Medvedev
President Putin (left) wants Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him

"That means that the observers need to arrive in Russia by 15 February," he added.

His comments came after two days of talks between ODIHR representatives and officials from Russia's election commission.

The election commission said that it would allow a 75-member ODIHR team to start operating at full strength on 20 February.

It said it was also ready to allow five ODIHR logistical experts to arrive immediately and a 20-member advance team on 8 February.

The monitors earlier argued that arriving just three days before the vote would mean its could not monitor the election campaign to see if it was free and fair for all candidates, including their access to Russia's media.

State control

The BBC's Richard Galpin says Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev - nominated by President Vladimir Putin to be his successor - is already receiving blanket television coverage. Almost all the broadcast media is controlled by the Kremlin.

Mr Medvedev has refused to take part in any live television debates during the election campaign.

That prompted a rebuke from the Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, who said the Kremlin was afraid to face its opponents.

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