Russia's Putin too busy to meet election observers

AFP, Saturday 11 Feb 2012

A group of European vote monitors said Saturday they were denied a meeting with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin ahead of next month's presidential elections because of his busy schedule

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talk before a meeting in the Gorki residence outside Moscow February 3, 2012. (Photo:Reuters)

The Russian premier is the overwhelming favourite to beat four weak rivals in a March 4 ballot that should hand him a third term as Kremlin chief. The 59-year-old Putin served as president in 2000-2008 and then as premier for the past four years before deciding to swap jobs with his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.

But Putin -- a former KGB agent whose domineering style went almost unchallenged until the first street protests against his rule broke two months ago -- has refused to debate his rivals and already predicted his own victory.

A team of observers from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said that Putin's team this week also told them the prime minister was too busy to fit them into his schedule. "Were informed that a meeting does not fit into Mr. Putin's plans," Interfax quoted mission head Tiny Kox as saying. "We accept that as the answer."

Putin has a history of testy relations with foreign vote monitors and in December accused the US State Department of inciting the rallies that followed that month's contested parliamentary polls.

His spokesman Dmitry Peskov had earlier in the week told the state RIA Novosti news agency that there was "no such meeting in Putin's schedule."

The PACE team said it met the other four candidates during its stay and recorded several complaints against Putin.

"The candidates who received the delegation were also unhappy that one of the candidates -- the current prime minister -- continues to use his administrative resources," PACE said in reference to Putin's regular appearances on state television.

The mission said it would send a full team of 30 observers to Russia on February 29.

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