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Moscow snubs Western concerns over vote monitoring curbs

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Russia has invited more international monitors to the upcoming parliamentary elections than the U.S. did for last year's congressional elections, a Russian deputy foreign minister said Wednesday.
MOSCOW, November 7 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has invited more international monitors to the upcoming parliamentary elections than the U.S. did for last year's congressional elections, a Russian deputy foreign minister said Wednesday.

"The assertions about the limitations imposed by Russia [on the number of international monitors] are nothing but a hollow political slogan" said Alexander Grushko in an interview with RIA Novosti.

He said there are "no uniform standards for election monitoring at the OSCE."

The official said complaints about monitoring cutbacks were coming mainly "from across the ocean." But he said last year the U.S. only invited 16 monitors from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to attend congressional elections, whereas Russia has invited 70 from the ODIH alone, as well as hundreds from other international organizations.

A total of 350 observers will monitor elections to Russia's lower house of parliament on December 2, about three times fewer than four years ago, the top election official said on Tuesday.

Vladimir Churov explained that the number of foreign observers had been cut in order to involve "professionals" in the monitoring process.

Moscow earlier announced a cutback in monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a ban on public reports immediately following the elections. The measures drew criticism from U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who called them "quite negative."

Churov said with a total of just over 200 people working in the Central Election Commission, it would be problematic for such a small team to provide good working conditions for over a thousand foreign observers.

The OSCE received an official invitation to monitor the State Duma elections on October 31. The invitation limited the number of monitors to 70, and placed restrictions on the time allotted for the observers to carry out their work.

"A mission of up to 30 people has been invited from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, meaning a total of 100 observers from OSCE structures," Churov said.

A small group of observers has been invited from the Nordic Council.

A total of eleven parties will run for the lower house of Russia's parliament, according to the Central Election Commission.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said last Friday recent comments by a senior U.S. government official about the "curtailed" monitoring procedure for upcoming parliamentary elections were "inappropriate" and "ill-advised."

"Such comments, which are utterly baseless, only go to show that certain quarters in the West are allergic to the sovereign character of Russia's democratic system, which is not developing according to scenarios written across the ocean, but in accordance with domestic laws and the choice that the Russian people made in the early 1990s," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its official Web site.

It said that from the OSCE perspective, U.S. democracy "is far from perfect."

Burns called Russia's decision unparalleled and said, "We regret very much this decision by the Russian authorities because it's rather unprecedented in the history of the OSCE."

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