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Putin wins fourth term, opponents say vote rigged

Moscow : Vladimir Putin today faced another six years in power after a record win in Russia’s presidential election, but congratulations from abroad were largely muted after opponents accused him of rigging the vote and Moscow’s relations with the West worsened.

Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, recorded his best ever election performance with 76.66 percent of the vote but rejected the possibility of staying in power indefinitely.

Opposition and independent monitors reported ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud as the Kremlin pushed for a high turnout to give greater legitimacy to Putin’s historic fourth term.

But Putin’s supporters said Western pressure on Putin including Britain’s accusations in a spy row and the Olympic doping ban prompted Russians to close ranks behind their leader.

Putin, who is now set to extend his rule until at least 2024 and is already Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin, appeared to rule out remaining president for life.

“What, am I going to sit here until I am 100 years old? No,” he told reporters Sunday night when asked if he saw himself running for president again in 2030.

The Russian strongman ran against seven candidates, but his most vocal opponent Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt.

“I see in this (result) the confidence and hope of our people,” a beaming Putin told supporters on a square next to the Kremlin Sunday night.

Putin’s campaign spokesman Andrei Kondrashov said that at more than 67 percent, turnout was 8 to 10 percentage points higher than expected “thanks to Britain.”

“Several foreign leaders — I won’t say their names — made their contribution,” said head of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova.

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