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Easy Victory in Russian Presidential Vote for Medvedev, Putin's Hand-Picked Successor

With nearly all of the ballots counted, Medvedev has 70 percent of the vote. While the result is hardly a surprise, two of his opponents are crying foul. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports.

Speaking at a political rally on Red Square just hours after polls closed, incumbent President Vladimir Putin said his hand-picked candidate, Dmitri Medvedev, was enjoying a convincing lead in the vote count. He said victory entails enormous responsibility, adding that it will ensure continuation of what he termed the "successful policies of the past eight years."

The elections are over, says Mr. Putin. He says he expects passions of the campaign to remain in the past and calls on everyone who loves Russia to work for the well-being of the great homeland.

Mr. Putin also said the election was conducted in strict adherence to the constitution and all laws.

However, political analysts have long noted that the campaign lacked passion. Dmitri Medvedev hardly campaigned and did not participate in any debates, which were relegated to six and seven AM time slots, which barely drew an audience.

Two of Medvedev's opponents are alleging voting violations. Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, who appears headed for a distant second place finish, claims to have a list of 200 infractions. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, populist candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party is refusing to recognize election results and says he will challenge them in court. The last place finisher, political unknown Andrei Bogdanov, merely said he is glad the election was conducted without any excesses and that there won't be a revolution.

Russia's independent voter rights group, Golos, is also reporting widespread polling violations. These include banning the organization's observers from election precincts across the country, including Saint Petersburg in western Russia, Ufa in the Ural Mountains and Astrakhan near the Caspian Sea. In the city of Rostov-on-Don, the organization reports its monitors were physically threatened, and 40 percent of the precincts in Moscow had no independent observers.

Golos deputy director Grigori Melkonyants told VOA his organization has received telephone calls from teachers, factory workers, university professors and others complaining they were forced to cast ballots. Melkonyants says pressure was applied to increase voter turnout and give the appearance of popular support for the process.

Melkonyants says Golos also has reports of authorities calling people in their homes, and using specially designated individuals at polling places to mark who voted and who did not.

There are numerous reports of people being threatened with loss of pay and even work if they did not vote.

The secretary of the Russian Central Election Commission, Nikolai Konkin, says Sunday's voter turnout appears to be breaking all records, including the 2004 election of President Putin.

Only about 300 international monitors were on hand to observe an election held across Russia's 11 time zones. They are expected to announce their observations on Monday. The main European election observer group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, refused to send a delegation to Russia because it said restrictions imposed by Moscow would prevent meaningful work.

After casting his ballot in Moscow, Dmitri Medvedev told reporters he feels fine. He is expected to assume the presidency - his first elective office - in May.