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    Russian Monitors: Putin 'Would Still Win' Despite Fraud

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    A volunteer election monitoring group claimed on Wednesday "systematic" vote fraud in Russia's presidential elections, but said Vladimir Putin would still have won a clear majority in an "honest" vote.

    A volunteer election monitoring group claimed on Wednesday "systematic" vote fraud in Russia's presidential elections, but said Vladimir Putin would still have won a clear majority in an "honest" vote.

    "The count was accompanied by systematic falsification," the Voters' League said at a news conference in Moscow.

    "Vladimir Putin won 53 percent of the vote, according to nearly 5,000 reports we have received from independent observers," said Dmitry Oreshkin, co-founder of the Voters' League and independent political analyst.

    The Voters' League figure is some 10 percent less than Putin's reported tally of 63.6 percent, but would still have been sufficient to secure him victory in the first round. Oreshkin said the "result" was preliminary.

    But the Grazhdanin Nablyudatel monitoring group, which is also carrying out its own count, said Putin failed to break the 50 percent barrier, taking 47.7 percent.

    The polls were marred by widespread allegations of electoral violations and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote was "clearly skewed" in Putin's favor.

    Putin's victory has, however, been recognised by the international community. Russian election chief Vladimir Churov called the polls the "most open, honest and transparent" in the world.

    But the Voters' League said Sunday's elections "dealt an insult" to civil society in Russia and "discredited" the country's electoral system, as well as the institution of the presidency.

    Songwriter Georgy Vasilyev, another League co-founder, said it was "already obvious" that serious fraud "both on election day and the night afterwards" distorted the result of the polls.

    Opposition figures including veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov have condemned the result as "illegitimate," and protest leader Alexei Navalny said rallies against Putin's election victory would go on "until we win."

    Putin was Russia’s president between 2000 and 2008, but was barred by the Constitution from standing for a third consecutive term. He became prime minister after the election of his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

    Protesters first took to the streets after December's parliamentary polls, which were marred by claims of mass vote fraud in favor of Putin's United Russia party.

    Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the allegations and said there was "no question" about the outcome of Sunday's polls.

    Sergei Neverov, a senior United Russia deputy, denounced the Voters' League as "unprincipled" and said he "could not understand" the group's position.

    Putin on Tuesday admitted "irregularities" at the March 4 election and called for a probe.

    The League's Oreshkin said the numbers at dozens of polling stations across the country were rejigged after the polls closed. At polling station 109 in St. Petersburg, Russia's second city, votes for Putin went up from 554 to 966 overnight - just one of many instances of electoral fraud identified by poll obsevers.

    Oreshkin said observers faced "entirely new" methods of election cheating at the March 4 election, such as thousands of mock factory workers casting their votes several times using absentee ballots.

    He complained, however, that there was little chance the allegations would receive a fair hearing.

    "We have videos, but they'll say they have been aired from California; we have a copy of the official protocol, they'll say it's incorrect, and our court will accept such explanations," Oreshkin said. "But I am confident that we will achieve something, not a re-run of the election, of course, but at least the punishment of the most odious figures."

    Vladimir Churov, the head of Russia's central election commission, said footage of ballot-box stuffing at December's parliamentary elections uploaded to social media by activists was pre-recorded at "secret apartments" by opposition activists.

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