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Medvedev hails 'equal competition' ahead of vote
Russia's Medvedev says parliament vote follows 'equal competition' despite critics' complaints
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Russia's political parties enjoy "free and equal competition" ahead of this weekend's parliamentary election, President Dmitry Medvedev insisted Friday, even as voters complained of record violations by the Kremlin party and the only independent election monitoring group faces prosecution.

Seven Kremlin-approved parties have been allowed to field candidates this year, while the most vocal opposition groups have been denied registration and barred from campaigning.

In a televised address, Medvedev made an apparent call to vote for the dominant United Russia party and warned that a parliament made up of diverse political camps would be incapable of working for the good of the country.

"Will it be a lawmakers' corps torn by irreconcilable conflicts, incapable of making a decision ' something that has, unfortunately, happened in our history?" he asked. "Or will we get a capable legislative body dominated by responsible politicians, who can help improve our people's living standards in practice, who will be guided in their actions by the interests of voters and national interests?"

United Russia dominates the nation's political life and has received overwhelmingly favorable coverage during the recent campaign, mostly from Kremlin-controlled national television. But the party is increasingly disliked, accused of supporting a corrupt bureaucracy and often called "the party of crooks and thieves."

Golos, a respected independent watchdog, compiles complaints of election law violations across the country and posts them on online. It has recorded more than 4,700 complaints, most involving United Russia.

But Golos has come under growing pressure since Sunday, when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Western governments of trying to influence the election through their funding of Russian non-governmental organizations. Golos, whose name means "vote," is supported by grants from the United States and Europe.

Golos directors were called to court Friday to answer accusations that the organization has violated election law.

Prosecutors opened a case Thursday, claiming they had found indications that Golos was "abusing the freedom of the press by falsifying publicly important data, and spreading rumors under the disguise of reliable facts in an attempt to blacken the party and some of its members." The prosecutors' documents do not name the party.

Independent pollster Levada Center predicted last week that United Russia would receive 53 percent of the vote. While still a majority, this would deprive the party of the two-thirds majority that has allowed it to amend the constitution.

Levada said its survey indicated that the Communist Party's share of the vote would rise to 20 percent from less than 12 percent in 2007, as well as showing an uptick for the two other parties in parliament: the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia, a party established with Kremlin support to lure votes from the Communists.

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