Watchdog complains of “restrictions” in Russia vote

MOSCOW – Europe’s election watchdog complained on Tuesday of “serious restrictions” in the invitation it has received to monitor Russia’s March 2 presidential poll.

“It does contain serious restrictions both in terms of the number of observers, which is 70, and more importantly, the timeframe for observation,” said the spokesman for the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

He said that according to the letter of invitation, the organization’s observers could only start work three days before the vote.

“These conditions don’t allow us to carry out a meaningful observation and therefore fulfill our mandate,” the spokesman said.

A final decision on whether to go ahead with a limited mission has not yet been taken, he added.

“What we’re doing is responding to the letter, to the invitation and asking that these restrictions be reviewed in the very nearest future and based on this exchange we’ll make our final decision.”

Last December ODIHR pulled out from plans to monitor Russia’s parliamentary election in a row over visa delays and observer restrictions that were heavily criticized as unfair to opposition parties by other election observer teams.

Kremlin critics at home and abroad say the presidential election has been slanted in favor of Dmitry Medvedev, 42, the first deputy prime minister whom Putin has backed as his successor.

Russia’s Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov said on Monday that ODIHR and observers from the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe would be invited.

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