A group of European vote monitors say they have been denied a meeting with Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Putin because of his busy schedule.
According to the Interfax news agency, Tiny Kox, the head of the observers from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), was told in Moscow that "a meeting does not fit into Mr. Putin's plans."
Kox also told reporters that the PACE team has met the other four candidates in the presidential race and heard claims that Putin is using his political clout to boost his campaign publicity.
"The candidates that my colleagues and I met also complained about the continuing use of administrative resources by the candidate who is now prime minister, as well as a biased media and a declared a loss of confidence in the electoral administration," he said.
The criticism from the other candidates is an apparent reference to Putin's frequent appearances on state television.
In a statement issued last month, the PACE delegation said the low level of public confidence in the electoral system "demanded a major overhaul of the election administration," and cited "a pressing need for an impartial referee to oversee voting in Russia."
Putin has a history of testy relations with foreign vote monitors and in December accused the U.S. State Department of inciting opposition rallies, which followed that month's contested parliamentary polls.
Since then, the prime minister's team has organized increasing numbers of rallies to support Putin as a national leader who would guarantee Russia's sovereignty.
A rally in support of Putin on February 11 drew a crowd of some 2,000 people in the Siberian city of Chita despite temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius.
The Russian prime minister is the overwhelming favorite to beat four weak rivals in a March 4 ballot that should hand him a third term as president.
He served as president in 2000-2008 and then as premier for the past four years before deciding to swap jobs with his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.
Compiled from agency reports