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Russian opposition leader’s presidential bid close to rejection: officials

A presidential bid by Russian opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov appeared doomed yesterday after election officials issued a preliminary ruling that his registration application is invalid.

The Central Elections Commission (CEC) said that 13.38 percent of the two million signatures gathered by Kasyanov from supporters had been deemed fraudulent — well over the allowed maximum.

"As a result of the check… the number of certified signatures is less than two million, which is sufficient basis to reject his registration as candidate for the presidency," CEC member Nikolai Konkin said in a statement.

However, a spokeswoman for the commission said that "there will be a second count of the signatures and the final decision will be taken in a CEC meeting. That meeting has not happened yet. It should take place by Sunday."

Independent candidates seeking registration in the March 2 election to replace President Vladimir Putin have to gather the two million signatures from supporters across the country. Only five percent of signatures can be invalid.

"The official decision will be taken within the required timeframe. If the candidate disagrees with the CEC decision he can appeal it," CEC member Gennady Raikov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Kasyanov spokeswoman Yelena Dikun told RIA Novosti news agency that the signatures were valid. "Lawyers from the campaign team are working on this now and will take our complaint to the CEC."

Kasyanov is a former premier under Putin who represents Russia's small and increasingly beleaguered anti-Kremlin opposition.

Three candidates have already been registered, led by Putin's chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev, a government bureaucrat and chairman of gas giant Gazprom.

Kasyanov calls the upcoming election "dishonest and unfair" and has complained that Russian law enforcement agencies hounded him and activists of his People's Democratic Union during the signature drive.

Openly anti-Kremlin parties failed to win a single seat in parliamentary elections held in December, with Putin's United Russia party securing a crushing majority.