Russian President Putin elected for the fourth term of presidency

US announces new sanctions against Russians over 2016 election interference

The Latest: Vote monitoring group warns of interference

Russians on Sunday began voting in the presidential election, in which President Vladimir Putin is seeking a fourth term.

Mr Putin's victory will extend his time in office until 2024, when he will be 71 and Russia's longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin.

"Where the legal framework restricts many fundamental freedoms and the outcome is not in doubt, elections nearly lose their objective", Link said Monday at a news conference in Moscow.

"Most candidates publicly expressed their certainty that the incumbent president would prevail in the election", it said.

But European observers said that while the poll was conducted efficiently there was a lack of genuine choice.

One election commission worker in the republic of Dagestan, which traditionally registers extremely high official turnout figures, told AFP around 50 men entered the station where he was working and physically assaulted an observer before stuffing a ballot box.But the electoral commission dismissed most concerns, saying monitors sometimes misinterpret what they see. The second place is taken by the candidate from the Communist Party Pavel Grudinin, who was supported by 12.30% of voters.

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Putin's main foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race because of a criminal conviction widely seen as politically motivated.

His opponents have called the election a farce, but his millions of fans hail the 65-year-old former KGB officer for restoring Russian greatness and defending their proud nation from a hostile outside world. The Central Election Commission said 67.98% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

This time the outcome is so certain that authorities are investing in get-out-the-vote efforts to ensure a decent turnout across the world's biggest country. He said his bosses haven't asked for proof of voting but he fears they will.

Despite the election apparently being a forgone conclusion there were still reports of voting irregularities across Russian Federation.

"We are a single team, I am a member of this team, and all those who cast their ballots today are members of our large national team", he said, after a colorful show of high-energy musical performances.

The elections "were to some extent unfair and undemocratic", he said.

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"There is no feeling that another six years will become Putin's last in power", liberal newspaper Vedomosti said in an editorial.

He received 5.98% of the votes.

TASS quoted President Putin as saying, "As for the tragedy you have mentioned, I learnt about it from the mass media".

"Mistrust, armament and a climate of insecurity contribute to instability".

He said Putin would spend the day fielding calls of congratulation, meeting supporters, and holding talks with the losing candidates.

Under current Russian law, Putin cannot stand for re-election. At a polling station in central Moscow near the House of Government, the workplace of the Russian Prime Minister, employees of a construction firm told CNN that the company's management provided transportation to the polls early Sunday. Putin described the accusations Sunday as "delirium", and both countries have expelled respective diplomats over the row.

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