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Russian liberals, on the eve of an election for president that is certain to hand Vladimir Putin's handpicked candidate a resounding victory, accused the Kremlin on Saturday of orchestrating "a farce".
No campaigning was allowed on an official "day of silence" across Russia's 11 time zones following weeks of a colourless campaign that has sparked little excitement among Russia's 109 million registered voters.
But opposition politicians made a final protest over Sunday's vote which will be a shoo-in for First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, 42, who enjoys Putin's endorsement and thus blanket media coverage.
Putin has presided over Russia's longest economic boom in a generation and many people see a future partnership between Medvedev and his patron - who is expected to become prime minister - as a way of preserving stability.
Putin's critics - not only liberals but also the vociferous communists - accuse the Kremlin of harassing rivals and forcing millions of state workers to vote or risk losing their jobs.
Most Western election observers have refused to monitor the election, citing lack of official cooperation from the Russian authorities.
Former world chess champion and opposition figure Garry Kasparov and his allies submitted a petition to the central election commission describing the election as a "farce".
"It's very important that there are still people around who believe that this election is a farce," said Nikita Belykh, an opposition leader.
"We do not think that what's happening in our country can be called an election," he told reporters.
But a low turnout could take the shine off Medvedev's likely crushing victory and officials - including Putin himself in a televised address to people on Friday - sought to galvanise apathetic voters.
"I appeal to you to go to the election on Sunday and vote for our future, for Russia's future," said Putin. Analysts say the Kremlin wants to ensure a turnout of at least 70 per cent.
Mobile phone operators have been sending text messages urging subscribers to vote. Posters and advertisements along streets and badges distributed by workers are also meant to remind people of the poll.
Alexander, an entrepreneur in the Siberian oil town of Nizhnevartovsk who did not give his family name, told Reuters by telephone that officials were attempting to bribe people into voting by offering them car lottery tickets at polling stations.
"The higher the turnout number, the better off they will be after the election," he said.
Putin, a former KGB spy who has to step down because he has served two full terms, endorsed Medvedev, a former lawyer from the same city of St Petersburg, last December ending a long period of suspense over who would follow him into the Kremlin.
The 55-year-old Putin is however poised to keep a hand on the levers of power by becoming prime minister in a Medvedev administration.
Opposition candidates have either been disqualified, or have refused to run in protest. Medvedev's rivals are Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, pro-Kremlin nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Andrei Bogdanov, a little-known politician.
A huge poster featuring a smiling Putin walking alongside Medvedev was towering above downtown Moscow, just a minute's walk from the Kremlin. "Together we will win," read the poster.
In Moscow, Russia's traditional "matryoshka" nesting dolls with Medvedev portraits were seen on display at souvenir stalls.
Some Russians voiced disenchantment.
"I voted for Putin last time but now I not going to vote at all this time," said Vladimir, a Moscow resident in his 30s. "I am not an idiot. It's humiliating to vote when everthing has been predecided." (Reuters)
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