VOTER TURNOUT IN CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TOPS 59%

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GROZNY/MOSCOW, August 29 (RIA Novosti) - As of 4:00 p.m., Moscow time, as many as 347,649 registered voters have cast their ballots in the early presidential election in Chechnya, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, chairman of the republic's electoral commission, reported to the media. Now that the voter turnout has topped 59 percent, the election can be declared valid, he said.

Officials at the Chechen Interior Ministry have confirmed reports that a suicide bomber had blown himself up this morning as he was caught trying to bring an explosive device into polling station No.360 in the capital of Grozny. According to the officials, the device, wrapped into a plastic bag, caught the eye of the security. The young man carrying the bag rushed out as they approached him for a check. The bomb went off when he ran off, but, luckily, no one was killed or got hurt, except himself.

Arsakhanov said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio that the polling station near which the incident had occurred continued operating in the usual mode and that no other emergencies had been registered at polls elsewhere in Chechnya.

The suicide bomber has now been identified, Press Officer of the Chechen Interior Ministry Ruslan Atsayev told RIA Novosti. He stopped short of disclosing the man's name, saying only that this was a militant featured on a wanted list.

As our correspondent in Chechnya's Urus Martan District reports, local polling stations are crowded, with entire households turning up to vote.

Elderly men are reportedly wearing traditional dress while younger men are dressed in white shirts; many of the women have traditional headscarves on.

Those who have already cast their ballots will flock outside polling stations to exchange views on the presidential hopefuls or just to chatter with neighbors. Our correspondent has witnessed a local elder and a young girl dancing a traditional Chechen dance to an appreciative applause from onlookers.

"To us, vote day is a festive occasion as it [gives us] hopes for peace, hopes that our children will be living in peace," Chechen elder Usman Yandarov said.

Officers and men of the republican police forces are, too, taking an active part in the polls. Despite being involved in efforts to maintain law and order across Chechnya, servicemen of the 46th Brigade and the military commandants' offices of the Russian Interior Ministry are actively participating in the voting, General Viktor Skryabin of the Interior Ministry is quoted as saying. He has described the situation in the republic as stable.

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