Image: Chechen regional President Ramzan Kadyrov, left
Musa Sadulayev  /  AP
Chechen regional President Ramzan Kadyrov, left, holds his ballot at a polling station at his home village, Tsentoroi, in eastern Chechnya, on Sunday, during the first municipal elections in the restive republic.
updated 10/11/2009 3:24:56 PM ET 2009-10-11T19:24:56

Millions of Russians cast their votes Sunday in local elections the opposition claimed were unfair and rigged.

About 30 million people were choosing among some 90,000 candidates in mayoral, regional and district elections in 75 of Russia's 83 regions, including Chechnya and other violence-plagued provinces in the Caucasus.

Opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov said the Kremlin has kicked its critics off the ballot. He called on voters to boycott the elections or damage their ballots with anti-Kremlin slogans.

"These elections are illegitimate. They're nothing but a farce," he told The Associated Press.

Russia's election commission barred Nemtsov and other candidates with his Solidarity movement from running in the Moscow city council election, alleging that the 5,000 signatures each of them collected were forged — including Nemtsov's own.

Only one liberal opposition party, Yabloko, was registered for the election in Moscow, but its leader, Sergei Mitrokhin, said the party had trouble placing advertising in the media and on Moscow streets. In a statement posted on the Web, he said the Kremlin strives to turn the voters into "rabbits hypnotized by a python."

Few Moscow residents voting
The Oborona opposition group claimed it observed 37 groups of voters in Moscow who have cast their ballots multiple times at various polling stations.

Moscow residents showed little enthusiasm for the elections. By 6 p.m., less than 30 per cent of Muscovites voted, the official RIA Novosti news agency reported.

A poll conducted Tuesday by the Levada center in Moscow showed that 62 percent of Muscovites thought the vote would be an "imitation of an election campaign," and 28 percent did not believe the elections would be fair. The poll surveyed 1,005 people and had a margin of error of 5.2 per cent.

Election officials said the elections were largely peaceful. Russian election commission chief Vladimir Churov said in televised remarks that his commission received "surprisingly" few complaints.

One came from the city of Derbent in the Dagestan region, where 12 of 36 polling stations did not open because election officials received threats from unspecified militants, emergency ministry spokesman Oleg Ugnivenko said. The Kavkazsky Uzel online publication alleged Sunday that one of the officials was kidnapped Saturday night, but officials denied the claim.

By 4 p.m., almost 70 percent of residents of violence-plagued Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia had voted, RIA Novosti reported. Both Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia are holding their first municipal elections.

Russian news agencies reported that more than 75,000 police provided security for the polls.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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