Moscow: polls in City Council election

Muscovites went to the polls Sunday to choose members of the Russian capital's city council, in a vote seen in part as a bellwether of political changes under President Vladimir Putin.

Since Soviet collapse, the city of 10 million people has directly elected its mayors. Under recently enacted Putin reforms, however, the president gets to pick the mayor and the Moscow City Duma can approve or reject the choice.

With his term expiring in two years, Mayor Yury Luzhkov is widely believed to be trying ensure that his loyalists get into the City Duma in order to protect his allies in city government and business.

More than 430 candidates were competing for the Duma's 35 seats in Sunday's vote, which will also test the electoral strength of democrats, nationalists and communists.

How the country's two main liberal parties fare at the polls is also being closely watched. The Yabloko and Union of Right Forces parties, who have merged forces under a joint slate for the city vote, suffered a crushing defeat in the 2003 parliamentary election and their showing in the Moscow election will gauge the democrats' popularity ahead of 2007 parliamentary elections.

The election campaign was roiled when the Rodina party was barred from the race for running a TV ad that appeared to denigrate migrants from the Caucasus.

The Russian capital is by far the wealthiest region in the nation, accounting for up to 20 percent of the entire economy and attracting the biggest share of foreign direct investment. In the past decade, the city has shed its Soviet drabness and turned into a glittering, crowded metropolis, reported AP. P.T.

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