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Independent Russian election watchdog faces probe
Independent Russian election watchdog faces probe 3 days before parliament vote
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Russian prosecutors on Thursday opened a probe against the country's main independent election watchdog on suspicion of election law violations ' just three days before the national parliamentary vote.

Golos is a respected watchdog that provides training for election observers and runs a website collecting complaints of voting violations. It has recorded more than 4,500 complaints related to Sunday's election, most involving the dominant United Russia party.

The Moscow Prosecutor's Office said in a statement that it opened the probe after discovering "serious violations of election law."

Golos official Andrei Buzin told The Associated Press that the group has been accused of publishing opinion polls after the legal deadline. Russian law prohibits disseminating poll results for five days prior to an election.

Buzin described the authorities' move as the "usual trick to get us distracted from our work at the most inconvenient time."

"They might as well have accused us of murder and suspended our activities while they're investigating," Buzin said.

Also Thursday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is running to take back the presidency next year, alleged that unspecified Western countries aimed to influence the election.

"We know that ... representatives of some countries meet with those whom they pay money, the so-called grant recipients, give them instructions and guidance for what 'work' they need to do to influence the election campaign in our country," Putin said. "That's a wasted effort, like throwing money to the winds."

Prosecutors' documents sent to Golos and seen by The Associated Press claim that prosecutors also found "indications" that Golos is "abusing freedom of the press by falsifying publicly important data, spreading rumors under the disguise of reliable facts in an attempt to blacken the party and some of its members." The documents does not specify the party's name.

The prosecutors also issued a warning to the group's director Lilya Shibanova to refrain from "continuing to conduct illegal activities."

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