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Navalny demands Moscow poll recount

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has demanded a recount in Moscow's mayoral election after results showed that the Kremlin-backed incumbent barely escaped facing him in a run-off.

The Moscow Election Commission said that former Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin won just over 51% of the vote while Mr Navalny got 27% in second place, a strong result for an opposition leader. If Mr Sobyanin, 55, had won less than 50%, he would have faced a run-off with the charismatic 37-year-old Mr Navalny, who has risen to wide prominence in the past few years with his anti-corruption campaign.

"We do not recognize these elections," Mr Navalny said. "Sobyanin can't consider himself the mayor of all Muscovites, he can't consider himself a lawfully elected mayor unless he agrees to our demands and allows a recount of the vote."

Leonid Volkov, chief of Mr Navalny's election campaign, said the key violation they are contesting is the voting-from-home totals, where the count showed what he called an abnormally high number of votes for Mr Sobyanin. Those votes are from people considered too infirm to get to polling stations.

Mr Sobyanin, who was appointed Moscow's mayor in 2010, said the city had "passed the test for free and fair elections."

Sunday's election was closely watched around the world amid concerns over the democratic process in Russia and following Mr Navalny's recent conviction for embezzlement, a charge he says was politically motivated.

Golos, Russia's leading independent election monitor, said the voting appeared to have gone smoothly but pointed to violations that could have tipped the balance in favour of one candidate.

Golos' executive director Grigory Melkonyants said the actual tally for Mr Sobyanin was lower than the official result posted by authorities. Aggregated data collected by election observers throughout Moscow showed Mr Sobyanin winning only 49.5% of the vote - a number that by law would have required a run-off in two weeks among the top two contenders.

"We have results from over 2,000 polling stations, and it's clear that there should be a second round," Mr Melkonyants said. "And yet for some reason, where there aren't any observers, the outcome is different and it changes the overall result. Everyone has doubts. This is clearly not a convincing victory."

This mayoral election was the first in Moscow since 2003 and included six candidates. Last year, the Kremlin reversed President Vladimir Putin's 2004 decree abolishing direct elections for Moscow's mayor and other regional leaders.

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