OSCE lawmakers start election monitoring work in Russia - 2

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(Adds details in paras 8-12)

MOSCOW, November 26 (RIA Novosti) - Lawmakers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have begun monitoring the run-up to December 2 parliamentary elections in Russia, the organization announced on Monday.

Russia earlier invited additional representatives from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, after the OSCE's main election monitoring arm, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), refused to attend, citing unprecedented restrictions and Russia's failure to issue visas to monitors.

OSCE PA Communications Director Klas Bergman said the group traveling to Russia "comprises 40 delegates, including 31 parliamentarians from 20 countries."

He said the mission would be led by the president of the OSCE PA, Sweden's Goran Lennmarker.

Monitoring by the 56-member OSCE, a Vienna-based organization that includes the United States and Canada, is considered by Western nations a key requisite for declaring elections free and fair. However, Russia has accused the organization of bias towards pro-Western forces.

President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that the refusal of the ODIHR to dispatch observers to Russia's parliamentary elections had been made on recommendations from the U.S.

Asked about Russia's accusations, ODIHR Director Christian Strohal said last week that the organization does not take orders from any state.

Spencer Oliver, the OSCE PA secretary general, on Monday reiterated Lennmarker's regrets last week over ODIHR's refusal to attend.

The secretary general also announced a desire for monitors to meet with participants of an opposition rally that was held in Moscow over the weekend.

Several opposition leaders were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg during an anti-president March of Dissent ahead of parliamentary elections due December 2. Riot police were summoned to break up the rallies, which they said violated procedural rules for public gatherings.

The White House and the U.S. State Department have expressed concern over the detention of opposition leaders.

Spencer said that his organization was following the events in the press and hoped a meeting with opposition leaders would give a clear view of the events.

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