REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed victory for a new term as president after early results in Sunday's election showed him taking an insurmountable lead.
Putin, who has previously served two terms as president, had received a comfortable 63% of the vote, with 28% counted, according to the preliminary tabulation of the Russia Central Election Commission. He declared victory at a large rally of supporters outside the Kremlin.
"I asked you once if we would win and we did win!" Putin said loudly as the crowd, numbering in the thousands, began chanting: "Putin, Putin, Putin!"
Meanwhile, observers voiced concerns about large-scale election violations and opposition activists predicted forthcoming protests in Moscow and other big cities.
In the early vote totals, Putin was trailed by four rivals including communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who had 17%. Zyuganov refused to accept the results and said that “the entire state machine, corrupt inside out, was working for one man on the ballot, Vladimir Putin.”
Putin’s campaign chief, Sergei Govorukhin, pronounced the election “the cleanest in the entire history of Russia.”
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Observers and journalists monitor a screen showing presidential election vote totals at Vladimir Putin's campaign headquarters in Moscow. Credit: Sergei Chirikov / EPA