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Russia: Chechens Voting In Presidential Election

Grozny, 5 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Voting is going on under tight security in the Russian republic of Chechnya today for a new president. Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, chief of the region's election commission, said that at as of midday local time, 19 percent of Chechnya's more than 561,000 eligible voters had cast ballots.

Turnout must reach at least 30 percent for the vote to be valid. Sunny weather is expected to favour voter participation.

More than 15,000 troops and police are deployed to guard more than 420 polling stations in the war-battered republic.

Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, the Russian-backed head of the Chechen administration, is widely expected to win the election, as his serious rivals have all been disqualified or withdrew.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the election as an important step of his plan to bring peace and stability to the republic.

For more on Chechnya's election, please see Russia: Little Seen As 'Normal' In Presidential Vote In Chechnya (Part 1), Russia EU Official Deplores Moscow's Lack Of Cooperation In Chechnya (Part 2), and Russia How Western Attitudes Toward Wars Have Shifted (Part 3).

Also today, voters went to the polls in St. Petersburg for the second and final round of voting to choose a governor for the Russian city.

Contesting the vote are two women, Valentina Matvienko, who won 48 percent of votes cast in the first round on 21 September, and Anna Markova, who received 16 percent.

The election is seen as an electoral test for the Kremlin, as Matvienko is Russian President Vladimir Putin's representative in the Northwest Federal District.

Some 3.7 million electors were eligible to vote today at more than 1,700 polling stations throughout Russia's second city.