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Pro-Kremlin Party Sweeps Moscow City Vote

Russia's ruling party won by a sizable margin Sunday in Moscow's city-council election. The vote is being watched as an indication of politics to come on the national level.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party won close to 50 percent of the vote, with the communists and a pro-Western reform party trailing far behind.

The smaller parties said widespread vote rigging had occurred, amid criticism of media bias in favor of Kremlin-backed candidates through the electoral campaign.

One party leader talked of the difficulty of campaigning in what he calls Russia's new authoritarian system.

The ultra-nationalist party of flamboyant politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky failed to reach the 10 percent minimum in order to have seats in the 35-seat city council.

Another nationalist group known as Rodina was disqualified last week due to an advertisement directed against non-Russian immigrants that was found to incite ethnic hatred.

Rodina has a strong position in Russia's federal parliament, and its leader accused the Kremlin of seeking to marginalize it at a time when anti-immigrant feelings are growing.

The vote was closely watched to see what trends might become dominant before national elections in two years.

Analysts also say the 11 percent showing of the reformist Yabloko Party rescued the so-called liberal or pro-West groups from political oblivion.

Nikolai Petrov, who is with the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says it was crucial for them to show their best in the city election, and the result demonstrates they might be able to build enough support for the national Duma election in 2007.

Both Yabloko and another reform party known as the Union of Right Forces were voted out of the national parliament two years ago when they failed to reach the minimum percentage required. At the time the liberal party leaders blamed the poor showing on a lack of media coverage in state-controlled television, as well as their failure to unite.

This time the two groups did run under one banner.