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Dispute Erupts Over Turnout In Chechen Elections

A Chechen girl waits for her mother at a polling station in the capital Grozny (AFP) 27 November 2005 -- Voting is over in Chechnya's first parliamentary elections in nearly nine years, with no initial reports of major violence but a controversy erupting over unofficial turnout figures that emerged for the 27 November ballot.

Reuters reported that election officials announced that 57.4 percent of eligible voters had turned out by late afternoon.

However, Chechen rebel sources immediately disputed that figure, with the pro-independence Kavkaz Center website claiming that turnout was just 7 percent or less.

The site did not say how it arrived at this figure, but it denounced the elections, organized by the pro-Moscow authorities, as "the latest farce."

Preliminary results were expected to be announced early on 28 November.

There have been no reports of serious violations in the voting process, in which some 600,000 Chechens were eligible to participate.

Officials had said some four hours after polling started that turnout had already surpassed the 25 percent mark to make the ballot valid.

At stake were 58 seats in the Republican Council, the republican upper house, and the lower People's Assembly contested by a total of 351 candidates.

Russian and international human rights groups have criticized the polls, calling them a pretense of a political process in the troubled republic.

There continue to be near-daily armed clashes in Chechnya between separatist rebels and Russian forces.

(compiled from wire reports)

For a complete roundup of the vote, see Russia: With Heavy Security In Evidence, Chechen Vote Comes Off Without Violence .

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