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Russian Electorate Choosing President

Moscow, 14 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russians are voting in a presidential election expected to yield a landslide victory for incumbent President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has already said initial figures show the election will exceed the 50 percent needed to make the vote valid.

Putin is being challenged by five opponents representing the Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Union of Rightist Forces, and Motherland parties, and the chairman of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. Speaking today at a polling station in Moscow, Putin praised the five.

"From my days as an athlete, I have learned to treat my competitors and opponents with great respect. This is what my trainers taught me. I respect them for the honour they have given me by competing against me, for going into the ring against me, as we used to say. I think that they are all worthy people. We'll know the results tomorrow morning," Putin said.

Polls close this evening at 8 p.m. local time (7 p.m. Prague time) in the far Western exclave of Kaliningrad. First results are expected after that.

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