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Russia Votes For President

Polling stations in Moscow have opened for Sunday's nationwide presidential elections, which nearly all predict will see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin elected to a third term as president.

As voters in Moscow started to make their way to cast ballots, voters in Siberia and Russia's far eastern regions had been visiting polling stations for several hours. On the Chukotka Peninsula, one of the first places to vote, local election officials were reporting a turnout of nearly 70 percent and on the Kamchatka Peninsula officials reported turnout at 46.15 percent as polling stations in Moscow were opening.

In Siberia's Krasnoyarsky Krai, Mikhail Prokhorov became the first of the five candidates running for president in Russia to cast his ballot. Prokhorov has said he hopes to win today's election also insists his participation in Sunday's poll is the start of his political career. He said the "creation of a new party is already happening." Prokhorov said the days of Russia's electorate being apathetic are over. "Our citizens have actively become involved in the political battle and I plan to create a new political force, he said predicting, "It will be absolutely new, it will unite our citizens on the principle of civil responsibility."

Prokhorov traveled by plane from Moscow to Siberia where he is registered to vote. He then immediately departed for the airport to return more than 4,000 kilometers to Moscow, to monitor Sunday's presidential elections and give some interviews to talk shows.

Surveys conducted in Russia prior to the election show Putin should win in the first round with some 60 percent of the vote, precluding the need for a second round. His challengers in the election are Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky and former Senate (upper house) speaker Sergei Mironov. Putin was president from 2000 to 2008 but was constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term. He has served as prime minister under current President Dmitri Medvedev since Medvedev was sworn into office in 2008. Putin and Medvedev have been referred to as the "tandem" during Medvedev's presidency and many believe Prime Minister Putin was making the important decisions for the country.

Since Putin's United Russia party won the December 4 (2011) parliamentary elections there have been several anti-government protests across Russia involving tens of thousands of people. Protesters complained of vote rigging in the December poll and rejected allowing Putin to serve another term as president. Putin has vowed to hold a dialogue with opposition groups that organized these demonstrations. His supporters, who have also held massive rallies for Putin since last December, say Putin is the best guarantor of security and stability for Russia.

To prevent any demonstrations from breaking out on election day Russian authorities have deployed more than 380,000 police across the country. First Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Gorovoy said in addition police would be helped to keep order by nearly 30,000 "druzhinniki," or volunteers, and some 31,000 employees of private security firms.

Polls are opening at 8:00 closing at 20:00 local time across Russia (Polls in Moscow open 5:00 CET). Nearly 110 million people in Russia are eligible to cast ballots at some 91,000 polling stations in Sunday's election. The last polling stations in western Russia will close 21 hours after the first polling stations in the eastern part of the country opened.

Russian news agencies report there will be 685 accredited election observers monitors polling stations, 219 from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Webcams have also been installed at polling stations across the country. Russia's Minister of Communications Igor Shchegolev said the webcams logged more than 1 million visits in the first hour after polling stations opened in the eastern part of the country.

With ITAR-TASS, Interfax and Reuters reporting