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Russia should invite observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation
Russia should invite observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the upcoming presidential election, a top EU official said on Wednesday.

The OSCE's main election monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), boycotted Russia's parliamentary elections held on December 2, citing visa delays and "unprecedented restrictions." The OSCE subsequently declared the elections "not fair."

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European commissioner for external relations and European neighborhood policy, said she hoped OSCE monitors would receive an invitation to attend presidential elections in Russia in a timely manner and in compliance with standard procedures.

The EU official expressed her disappointment that the recent State Duma election had not been monitored by the ODIHR.

In the elections United Russia, whose candidate list was headed by President Vladimir Putin, won 64% of votes. A joint statement by the OSCE and the Council of Europe said Sunday's poll "was not fair and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections."

The presidential election is set for March 2, 2008. Under the Constitution, incumbent Putin is forbidden from seeking a third term. Russia said last Thursday it would invite the ODIHR to observe the polls.

Although the OSCE is recognized by Western countries as the main authority on election monitoring, whose approval vital to declaring elections free and fair, Russia has in the past accused the organization of bias toward pro-Western opposition parties.

The OSCE played a key role in unveiling alleged ballot rigging in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, leading to an election re-run in which a pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, defeated his pro-Kremlin rival Viktor Yanukovych.


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