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Putin Says Protests Made Him Stronger Candidate

Russian Prime Minister and presidential front-runner Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister and presidential front-runner Vladimir Putin
MOSCOW -- Russia's presidential election campaign has drawn to a close, with the five candidates making a final plea for votes before the election on March 4.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win the election to secure a third term as president.

Opinion polls have shown Putin's four rivals trailing far behind. They include Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, billionaire Mikhail Prokohorov, and former upper-house lawmaker Sergei Mironov.

March 2 was the last day of the Russian campaign, as official electioneering activities are banned one day before the vote.

Putin, speaking late March 2 to foreign news editors, said he was confident he would win, and that recent mass protests against his continued rule -- sparked by reports of widespread fraud in December's parliament elections -- have made him a stronger candidate.

Putin also reiterated that he intends to nominate outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev to be prime minister after his expected presidential victory.

Medvedev, a former prime minister, was elected president in 2008 after Putin stepped down after two presidential terms, in a controversial job switch.

In a video statement on March 2, Medvedev called on Russian voters to make what he described as "the right choice."

Russia 'Maturing' Politically

Medvedev maintained that the protests had demonstrated that Russian society was now sufficiently developed to understand the importance of the presidential election.

"This election campaign has taken place in an atmosphere of high civic activity," he said. "It has shown that Russian society has become more mature and it clearly formulates its demands to the authorities.

"This means that our citizens understand that our very future depends on the forthcoming election and they are ready to assume their share of responsibility for our country."

December's parliamentary election, which was won by Putin's ruling United Russia party, triggered antigovernment demonstrations that, at times, brought out as many as 100,000 participants who protested alleged fraud in the vote and Putin's continuing control of the Russian government.

Presidential candidate Zhirinovsky, the leader of Liberal Democratic Party, alleged in a debate March 2 that Putin supporters would "commit shameless falsification and vote-rigging" in the election.

In response to claims of fraud, authorities have backed the installation of cameras in most polling places to monitor the vote.

Prosecutors have also warned an independent election monitoring group that it is illegal for anyone to conduct an online parallel vote count during the election.

The Western-funded monitoring group Golos (Voice) has planned to put text message reports of results from individual polling stations online during the election as a counter to potential fraud.

Prosecutors on March 2 told the group that Russian law bans the publication of survey results associated with ongoing elections on the day of ballot.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said more than 250 observers from 38 countries planned to monitor the vote, and would give a statement about the conduct of the election on Monday.
With dpa reporting