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Exit polls predict Putin will easily return to Russian presidency with 60% of vote


Vladimir Putin has been elected Russian president for the third time, exit polls suggest, after spending the last four years as the country's PM.

The exit polls gave Mr Putin about 60% of the vote, meaning that he should avoid a run-off with his nearest rival, Communist Gennady Zyuganov.

Officials say turnout was higher than for the last election in 2008.

But opposition groups have reported widespread fraud, with many people voting more than once.

They have called for mass protests in central Moscow on Monday.

Meanwhile thousands of supporters of Mr Putin have gathered with Russian flags and banners outside the Kremlin for a concert to celebrate his victory.

The electoral commission published preliminary results, with 14% of districts counted, showing Mr Putin gaining nearly 62%, and Mr Zyuganov just under 18%.

The other three candidates were in single digits.

The turnout was 58.3% by 18:00 Moscow time (14:00 GMT), considerably higher than in 2008 elections. Electoral officials forecast a final turnout of 62.3%.

The election was held against a backdrop of popular discontent, sparked by allegations of widespread fraud during December's parliamentary elections in favour of Mr Putin's United Russia party.

Observer organisations said there had been thousands of violations including so-called carousel voting, with busloads of voters being driven around to different polling stations.

The alleged fraud came despite the presence of thousands of independent observers and web cameras at polling stations.

Opposition blogger and anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny told the BBC: "Grandiose scale of falsifications, especially in Moscow... mass use of carousel voting."

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