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Putin easily wins re-election as Russian president

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Russian president Vladamir Putin addresses the United Nations on September 28, 2015. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has cemented his position in power at the Kremlin by winning what early results indicated will be his largest-ever victory.

According to exit polls published by state media, Putin won 73.9 percent of the vote. The Central Election Commission said that with about a third of the ballots counted, more than 73.1 percent were for Putin.

Putin has been in power as president or prime minister for nearly two decades, and won with 63.6 percent in 2012.

After barely campaigning, and with no serious challengers, Putin is likely to dominate Russian politics for at least another six years.

Russia’s most respected independent election monitoring group, Golos, reported more than 2,500 electoral violations.

The Central Election Commission said it had received more than 670 complaints, according to a Twitter post.

Golos, which the Russian government has forced to register as a foreign agent because it has accepted funding from abroad, posted a map with the locations of violations.

The city of Moscow showed the most violations, about 500. The group detailed on its website the most egregious of the alleged violations, such as ballot stuffing and carousel voting, in which individuals vote multiple times.

“Some men in black jackets came here and voted already three times,” a Golos observer, Anna, said at a polling place in Moscow.

The monitoring group posted on its website several videos of apparent ballot stuffing.

The Central Election Commission said it would annul all ballots in any box found to have been stuffed.

A state-run pollster estimated the voter turnout at 63.7 percent, according to state media, slightly lower than the last presidential election at 65 percent. The Central Election Commission said the countrywide voter turnout stood at about 60 percent, with about three hours to go before polls closed.

The election took place on the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which provoked international criticism but boosted Putin’s popularity at home.

The Russian leader cast his ballot in Moscow. “I’m sure that the programme which I suggest for the country is right,” he said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

The runners-up, according to exit polls, were the Communist Party’s Pavel Grudinin with about 11 percent, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with about 6 percent and journalist Ksenia Sobchak with about 2 percent.

The election took place during an escalating dispute with Britain and its allies over the poisoning of a former Russian spy turned double agent and his daughter in southern England.

Russia has denied any involvement in that incident and hit back at allegations that Putin himself was involved.

Putin was practically certain to win the election. He has maintained approval ratings of around 70 percent in recent years.

Russia’s constitution as it currently stands allows two consecutive presidential terms. So Putin’s fourth term would have to be his last in that succession.

One of Putin’s fiercest critics, protest leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the election because of a financial crimes conviction that he said was trumped up.

Navalny called on Russians to boycott the election and expressed hope that it would be undermined by low voter turnout.

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