Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 6 News List

OSCE denies US link in dropping Russian mission

AGENCIES , VIENNA AND MOSCOW

The head of a respected election observation institution dismissed on Wednesday a suggestion that abandoning plans to monitor upcoming Russian elections was politically motivated.

Late last week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) election monitoring office said it would not send a mission to observe Russia's Dec. 2 parliamentary elections, saying Moscow had not issued visas in time.

On Monday, Vladimir Churov, chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, said the decision by the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), was part of "big politics" and suggested the US may be calling the shots.

ODIHR Director Christian Strohal, when asked for reaction in Vienna on Wednesday, disagreed.

"To think that this is political work is, I think, an interesting understanding of the word political," Strohal said. "I think what is political about elections is elections, not observations."

In reference to possible US influence, Strohal said: "I travel to many countries and I listen to all of them, but nobody has instructions for me other than the collective decisions of the Ministerial Council."

The Ministerial Council is the OSCE's central decision-making and governing body and meets once a year at the level of foreign ministers. This year's meeting will take place next week in Madrid, Spain.

In September, Russia distributed proposals to diplomats in Vienna that would curtail ODIHR's activities. The proposals, which are expected to be discussed next week, have been criticized by the US.

The Vienna-based, 56-member OSCE -- which includes the US, Canada, European countries and ex-Soviet republics -- is regarded in the West as the most authoritative assessor of whether elections are conducted in line with democratic principles. Its observers have criticized several votes in Russia and some other former Soviet republics.

Russia and some of its allies say the OSCE's election monitoring is biased and that it tacitly supports pro-Western opposition forces. OSCE election assessments were seen as important factors in encouraging massive protests in Georgia and Ukraine that propeled Western-oriented leaders into office.

Meanwhile, an opposition politician running in Russian parliamentary elections was shot and seriously wounded on Wednesday as he entered his house in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, Russian media reported.

Farid Babayev, who will lead the regional list for the liberal anti-Kremlin Yabloko party was in a serious condition in hospital, RIA novosti news agency reported after an unidentified gunman fired on him in the regional capital Makhachkala.

"The incident occurred at about 10pm, not far from his home. Farid Babayev is now in hospital in a serious condition," his party colleague and fellow electoral candidate, Ruslan Salahbekov, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Dagestan is in the North Caucasus, next to Chechnya, and has been hit by an upsurge in separatist attacks in recent months and crime.

Babayev was not expected to win a seat in the Dec. 2 parliamentary elections, since Yabloko is only receiving 1 percent to 2 percent in opinion polls, well below the 7 percent national threshold required to enter the lower house of parliament.

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