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Putin ‘Elected Russian President’

Vladimir Putin has been elected Russian president for the third time, exit polls suggest, after spending the last four years as the country’s PM, the BBC reports.

The exit polls gave Putin about 60% of the vote, meaning that he should avoid a run-off with his nearest rival, Communist Gennady Zyuganov.

Officials say turnout was higher than for the last election in 2008.

But opposition groups have reported widespread fraud, with many people voting more than once.

They have called for mass protests in central Moscow on Monday.

Meanwhile thousands of supporters of Putin have gathered with Russian flags and banners outside the Kremlin for a concert to celebrate his victory.

There is tight security in the city, with 6,000 extra police brought in from outside.

The electoral commission showed preliminary results, with more than 20% of districts counted, showing Putin gaining over 62%, and Zyuganov just under 18%.

The other three candidates were in single digits.

In a news conference after the polls closed, Zyuganov described the elections as “unfair and unworthy”.

But he said that with increasing public anger, Putin “would not be able to rule like he used to”.

“These elections cannot be considered legitimate in any way,” said Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the leaders of the street protest movement, which was not represented in the election.

Meanwhile Putin’s campaign chief Stanislav Govorukhin described the poll as “the cleanest in Russian history”.

The turnout was 58.3% by 18:00 Moscow time (14:00 GMT), considerably higher than in 2008 elections. Electoral officials forecast a final turnout of 62.3%.

The election was held against a backdrop of popular discontent, sparked by allegations of widespread fraud during December’s parliamentary elections in favour of Putin’s United Russia party.

Observer organizations said there had been thousands of violations including so-called carousel voting, with busloads of voters being driven around to different polling stations.

The alleged fraud came despite the presence of thousands of independent observers and web cameras at polling stations.

Opposition blogger and anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny told the BBC: “Grandiose scale of falsifications, especially in Moscow… mass use of carousel voting.”