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Putin's foes suffer drubbing in key Moscow suburb polls

MOSCOW -- The Kremlin candidate steamrolled to victory Monday in local polls on the outskirts of Moscow that had been seen by the opposition as a chance to secure a high-profile presence near the seat of Russian power.

The Khimki District vote on the northwestern edge of the capital was one of a slew held Sunday across Russia for the first time since President Vladimir Putin was overwhelmingly swept to power for a third term in March.

The ruling United Russia party that Putin founded and which is now headed by his premier and predecessor Dmitry Medvedev was leading in every race amid sporadic reports of violations by the candidates and observers.

The Khimki election was of particular interest to the opposition because the Moscow suburb was the site of months of protests against the destruction of part of a forest in favor of a new Kremlin-backed road.

Environmentalist Yevgenia Chirikova decided to channel her protest experience into a political campaign against the powerful Khimki acting regional head Oleg Shakhov. But she trailed far behind with 17.6 percent to the Kremlin man's 47.6 percent.

The Khimki result was further marred by a turnout of less than 30 percent and reports of violations from election observers.

Anti-Putin forces fared no better in any of the four regional governor elections — a far more predictable outcome since protests had only seriously impacted Moscow and to some extent Saint Petersburg.

The Communist Party hopeful lost to his Kremlin rival with just 30 percent of the vote in the agricultural region of Bryansk while another leftist picked up just 22 percent in nearby Ryazan.

Huge wins for United Russia were also recorded in the Far East and the central Volga Region.

The elections marked the first time that Russians had a chance to choose regional leaders since January 2005 — the year Putin cancelled such votes in response to growing militancy in the restless North Caucasus.

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