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Election watchdog says Russia violated media freedom at polls

RIA Novosti

04/12/2007 20:24 VIENNA, December 4 (RIA Novosti) - The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said on Tuesday that Russia had failed to meet press freedom commitments during the recent parliamentary election campaign.

"Unfortunately, the OSCE commitment to support a diversity of news sources was violated during the campaign for the State Duma," the OSCE representative for Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said, referring to a report he had sent to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"Several cases of harassment and violence against the independent media contributed to the intimidating atmosphere," said the OSCE official said, noting in particular the severe beating of a group of REN TV journalists and a human rights expert, in Nazran, Ingushetia.

Meanwhile, Haraszti said media coverage had seen a clear bias in favor of the ruling United Russia party, which received around 80% of election campaign airtime on nationwide channels.

"The president's party chose to ignore the TV debates, and was instead given extra airtime," Haraszti said, adding that TV debates for other political parties were "downgraded and broadcast in the early morning and late at night."

Another criticism leveled at United Russia was that the party had enjoyed almost unlimited access to funds, its election campaign dwarfing the attempts of other parties to gain a platform.

Central Moscow was dominated by United Russia adverts in the days before the election, with little or no sign of the existence of other parties.

With 99.8% of the vote counted, United Russia, whose candidate list was headed by President Vladimir Putin, has received 64.2%, gaining 315 seats in the 450-legislature.

Only three other parties made it into parliament - the Communist Party, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party and the loyalist A Just Russia.

In the North Caucasus Chechen Republic, over 99% of ballots cast were for United Russia, something that, Kimmo Kiljunen, vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has said is "impossible."

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the electoral legislation met the demands of the country's current stage of democratic development.

"Our laws are designed to create favorable conditions for the development of strong and stable parties that express opinions of a broad social strata... and eventually lead to the creation of an efficient civil society," it said.

Meanwhile, observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a Russia-led alliance of former Soviet republics, stated on Monday in a report that the Duma elections had been democratic, free and transparent.

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