Putin claims victory in Russian election


Associated Press

MOSCOW

Vladimir Putin scored a decisive victory in Russia’s presidential election Sunday to return to the Kremlin and extend his hold on power for six more years. His eyes brimming with tears, he defiantly proclaimed to a sea of supporters that they had triumphed over opponents intent on “destroying Russia’s statehood and usurping power.”

Putin’s win was never in doubt as many across the vast country still see him as a guarantor of stability and the defender of a strong Russia against a hostile world, an image he has carefully cultivated during 12 years in power.

Accounts by independent observers of extensive vote-rigging, however, looked set to strengthen the resolve of opposition forces whose unprecedented protests in recent months have posed the first serious challenge to Putin’s heavy- handed rule. Another huge demonstration was set for tonight in central Moscow.

Putin claimed victory Sunday night when fewer than a quarter of the votes had been counted. He spoke to a rally just outside the Kremlin walls of tens of thousands of supporters, many of them government workers or employe es of state-owned companies who had been ordered to attend.

“I promised that we would win and we have won!” Putin shouted to the flag-waving crowd. “We have won in an open and honest struggle.”

Putin, 59, said the election showed that “our people can easily distinguish a desire for renewal and revival from political provocations aimed at destroying Russia’s statehood and usurping power.”

He ended his speech with the triumphant declaration: “Glory to Russia!”

The West can expect Putin to continue the tough policies he has pursued even as prime minister, including opposing U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europe and resisting international military intervention in Syria.

Exit polls cited by state television predicted Putin would get about 59 percent of the vote.

With more than 90 percent of precincts counted nationwide, Putin was leading with 65 percent, the Central Election Commission said. Complete results were expected today.

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