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    MOSCOW, March 17, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is surprised by the US leadership's criticism of the election campaign in Russia. "Everything was in full view, the election campaign was transparent. I have not read anything about specific arguments, about specific cases of law violation," he said at his first press conference in the new capacity in Moscow on Wednesday.

    "If the television gives equal time to all candidates it will have to stop covering the President's activities and this is not right," the minister said.

    During the December elections to the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian parliament) at first there was no criticism from the observers, he pointed out. "Reprimands started when the preliminary results of voting appeared," he said. "And all of them boiled down to the statement that some parties had not got sufficient airtime during the two-month election campaign," he recalled.

    "Then why did they keep silent? May it be that they expected differnt outcome and then there would have been no criticism?" Mr. Lavrov asked rhetorically.

    According to him, if the criticism had been constructive and had aimed at really improving possible shortcomings, it should have been made when it was still possible to improve them.

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