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Russian Activists Barred From Polls Start Hunger Strike

Russian opposition leader Leonid Volkov, who works as Aleksei Navalny's campaign chief, has been barred from an upcoming election.
Russian opposition leader Leonid Volkov, who works as Aleksei Navalny's campaign chief, has been barred from an upcoming election.

Three Russia opposition activists have gone on hunger strike in Novosibirsk to protest the authorities' decision to disqualify them from a local election.

Leonid Volkov, campaign chief for the opposition, and candidates Yegor Savin and Sergei Boyko began the strike on July 28 after the election commission in Russia's third-largest city didn't accept the signatures they submitted to register to run in the upcoming local legislature vote.

The opposition views the regional elections, to be held in September, as a dress rehearsal for next year's parliamentary election.

The three men say they will continue their protest until the Central Election Commission reviews their case.

Volkov contested the commission's decision, which found fault with over 1,300 signatures of the more than 11,600 they submitted. He said the commission was using an outdated ID database.

"If they were considering our filing in a purely legal way, we would be using only legal methods, too," Volkov told the Associated Press news agency by phone from Novosibirsk.

"One had to show that for some people, reputation and dignity are not just empty words - it was a spontaneous move triggered by the way [the decision] was taken."

Volkov said he was confident that a new check of the signatures would prove them right.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny canvassed in Novosibirsk and two other big cities earlier this summer in a bid to energize the voters, and said the decision of electoral authorities is an ominous sign before the 2016 Duma vote.

"These three brave and honest men have gone on hunger strike to protect the electoral rights of all Russians," he wrote in his blog. "The way the opposition was thrown out from election ballots in Siberia is going to replicate tomorrow across the country, and this scenario will be used for the State Duma election as well."

Meanwhile, the Investigative Committee in Novosibirsk said July 28 that they opened a probe into possible fraud at the opposition's headquarters in Novosibirsk.

Investigators said that they have received a complaint from an individual who said he collected signatures for the RPR-Parnas coalition but did not get paid.

"This is an absolutely political decision having nothing in common with lawfulness," said Ilya Yashin, deputy head of Parnas. "We are convinced that this is related with the fact that Parnas may really clear the threshold and set up a faction in the legislative assembly of the Novosibirsk region that will create major problems for local and federal authorities."

Parnas published on its web site a statement from the Democratic Coalition demanding that the election commission reverse its decision.

It was "based on inconsistencies in peoples' passport data fabricated by the authorities," the coalition said. "It constitutes a politically motivated ban on the real opposition's participation in the elections."

The group also called on authorities to "uphold the guarantees of the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens."

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said she expects the polls to continue to be rigged against opposition groups, however.

"Our country does not have true elections," she said.

With reporting by AP and Interfax
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