OSCE to monitor Russian polls despite observer cap

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Elections watchdog the OSCE, which locked horns with Moscow in the past, said Monday it had formally been invited to observe Russia's parliamentary polls in December but noted its observer numbers had been capped.

"We welcome that we have received the invitation in a timely manner, which will allow us to deploy an observation mission about six weeks ahead of election day, as planned," said Jens Eschenbaecher, spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Warsaw-based elections arm.

"The invitation contains no restrictions," he said, but added that Moscow had said it was "ready to accept the accreditation of no more than 200 long-term and short-term observers".

"This, regrettably, is a little less than planned, but we are confident that we can still do a meaningful job with a slightly lower number," he added.

The OSCE had hoped to deploy 260 monitors for the December 4 general election.

In 2007, after weeks of wrangling with Moscow, the OSCE decided not to monitor Russia's parliamentary elections.

At the time, it cited unacceptable limits on its operations, despite Moscow's having signed up to OSCE rules.

Among the restrictions were a 70-observer cap, cuts to the period during which they could be deployed and, ultimately, a refusal to issue visas in time.

In 2008, the OSCE also decided it could not monitor Russia's presidential elections on similar grounds.

The OSCE, whose remit stretches from the United States to Russia, monitors polls in all its 56 member states.

Last week, several Russian opposition leaders called for a boycott of the upcoming general election, branding it illegitimate and saying the results would be a done deal.

They also pointed to last month's announcement that ex-president and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will seek to swap seats with his 2008 successor as head of state, Dmitry Medvedev, in next year's presidential elections.

Not all in the opposition support the boycott strategy, with some leaders suggesting that voters participate by spoiling their ballots, and some calling for a vote for any party except Putin's ruling United Russia movement.

© 2011 AFP

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