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OSCE Sends Election Monitors to Russia

Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, the head of the OSCE, speaks during news conference in Moscow, Russia, Monday, December 5, 2011.

Voting monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have launched a mission in Russia ahead of the March 4 presidential election.

Mission chief Heidi Tagliavini on Thursday pledged to evaluate the election process objectively.

"I can assure you that we will do our work honestly and with an open mind," said Tagliavini. "We will register the positive aspects of the process, but we'll also not shy away from pointing out any shortcomings or irregularities we come across. Because this is what Russia and the other OSCE member states have agreed to and asked us to do."

The OSCE reported frequent violations in the December 4 parliamentary elections, which the opposition claims were rigged and led to mass protests. That vote was won by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

Putin is running in the March presidential election. The 59-year-old Putin was first elected president in 2000 and held that post until 2008, due to term limits. He then assumed the position of prime minister.

If re-elected president, he could serve two more six-year terms and remain in power until 2024.

Separately, Moscow authorities agreed Thursday to allow a mass opposition rally to take place February 4, one month before the presidential election.

Deputy Mayor Aleksander Gorbenko says authorities approved the route for the protest, which will see demonstrators march to Bolotnaya Square, just opposite the Kremlin on the other side of the Moscow River. An estimated 50,000 people are expected to attend.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.