MOSCOW — Russian citizens eligible to vote in the presidential elections living in the country’s easternmost regions of Kamchatka and Chukotka, began casting ballots to vote for the next president on Sunday.
The vote will last for a total of 22 hours, spanning from Kamchatka and Chukotka in the East to the westernmost enclave of Kaliningrad, will be heading to polls on Sunday.
Polling stations opened at 8 am local time (8 pm GMT on March 17) in Russia’s Far East, state television reported.
Overall, 97,000 polling stations, 400 of them located abroad, are hosting the elections. Over 108 million citizens in Russia and nearly 2 million outside are eligible to take part in the vote.
Some 30,000 Russians have already cast an early ballot vote from abroad, Russia’s Electoral Commission said. It is expected that the majority of those who live in foreign countries or happened to be outside Russia on the day of the presidential ballot will be able to vote on Sunday.
Opinion polls give Vladimir Putin, the incumbent President, support of around 70 percent, or nearly 10 times the backing of his nearest challenger. Another term will take him to nearly a quarter century in power — a longevity among Kremlin leaders second only to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Many voters credit Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy, with standing up for Russia’s interests in a hostile outside world, even though the cost is confrontation with the West.
The voting procedure will be monitored by about 1,500 international observers from 109 countries.
The eight candidates running for the election are incumbent President Vladimir Putin, who participates as an independent candidate, Vladimir Zhirinovsky from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and businessman Pavel Grudinin nominated by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF).
Other candidates include Grigory Yavlinsky from Yabloko party, leader of the Party of Growth Boris Titov, head of the Russian All-People Union Sergey Baburin, TV host Ksenia Sobchak and head of the Communists of Russia Maxim Suraikin.
China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline
BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.
Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.
Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.
State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.
The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.
The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.
Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.
China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.Follow @gorkhapost