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Russian election officials said on Tuesday
Russian election officials said on Tuesday they were set for an additional check of signatures collected in support of presidential candidate Mikhail Kasyanov's election nomination as forgery claims grew.

Kasyanov, the sole liberal opposition candidate after SPS nominee Boris Nemtsov stepped down in December to make way for the ex-premier, had provided just above the 2 million signatures required for independent candidates by the January 16 deadline for submitting applications for the March 2 presidential elections.

"Representatives of presidential candidate Kasyanov received a report at 11:00 a.m. [8:00 a.m. GMT] on the check of the first selection of signatures. Of 400,000 signatures scrutinized, the working group has found 62,265 false or invalid, which is 15.57% of the total," said Nikolai Konkin, the Central Election Commission (CEC) secretary.

Under the law, an additional 10% of signatures is to be selected for a further check if false signatures detected in the first selection exceed 5% of the total.

Accordingly, another 200,000 signatures has been selected for the second check, making 600,000 signatures the total number liable to verification.

A fraud case was launched earlier in the day after prosecutors said that over 15,500 false signatures had been collected in Kasyanov's support.

Tatyana Chernysheva, a spokesperson for the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, said false signatures had been collected in Rybinsk in central Russia and the Republic of Mari-El in Russia's Volga area.

Konkin said on Monday the problems related to insufficient information about the people who had collected the signatures on Kasyanov's behalf in some regions. He said this violation of election rules could result in all the signatures in support of the ex-premier's nomination being eventually declared invalid.

Kasyanov's support team described the forgery claims as political pressure. "We know about the Mari-El story, which has lasted for a week already. We consider it political pressure," Kasyanov's spokesperson Yelena Dikun said.

Kasyanov's supporters have recently arrived at the CEC offices to find out more about the alleged violations.

Commonly known in Russia as "Misha two-percent," a reference to bribery allegations concerning his time in office, Kasyanov is heavily associated with the Yeltsin years, which saw widespread hardship in the country. Misha is the diminutive version of the Russian name Mikhail.

The CEC has registered three candidates so far: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and the Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Medvedev, who has been publicly backed by President Putin, is the clear front-runner.

Konkin said on Monday that another nominee, Andrei Bogdanov, the leader of the tiny Democratic Party, was also experiencing some problems with the CEC, but the party's press service said on Tuesday that 'fake' signatures were so far less than 5%.

A final decision on the registration of Kasyanov and Bogdanov should be made no later than January 27.

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