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    CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION CHIEF CONDEMNS MS KHAKAMADA'S THREAT TO WITHDRAW FROM RACE

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    MOSCOW, February 25, 2004 (RIA Novosti correspondent Nikolai Makarov) - Central Election Commission (CEC) chief Alexander Veshnyakov has described the threats to withdraw from the presidential race by liberal contender Irina Khakamada as an attempt "to excite passions." "I do not know substantial reasons behind such a decision," Mr Veshnyakov told reporters on Wednesday.

    Irina Khakamada, a former leader of the liberal opposition Union of Right Forces, is running independent of any party support. Ms Khakamada said she was considering pulling out of the race as it was tarred with violations. The live broadcast of the February 12 meeting with the authorized representatives of President Vladimir Putin, who is running for re-election, was one of the violations, according to Ms Khakamada. She qualified the broadcast as an infringement on other candidates' rights and filed a complaint with the CEC. However, the commission found the complaint ungrounded.

    Mr Veshnyakov emphasized that Ms Khakamada had not "taken any legal steps" in that direction, whereas she could have appealed the CEC decision with the Supreme Court. The CEC chief said Ms Khakamada was complaining without taking legal action.

    Mr Veshnyakov recalled that all presidential contenders could withdraw their candidatures before March 8 without providing reasons for the decision.

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