Vladimir Putin wins fourth term as Russian President with 77% of vote

David Mercer, News Reporter

Vladimir Putin has swept to a landslide victory to secure a fourth term as Russian President, keeping him in power for six more years.

In a widely expected win, Mr Putin secured more than 76.66% of the vote and a turnout of 67.47%, the Central Election Commission said.

The result came amid allegations of election violations, including ballot-box stuffing and forced voting.

Addressing a crowd near Moscow's Red Square, Mr Putin said his victory was a vote of confidence in his achievements.

"It's very important to maintain this unity," he said.

"We will think about the future of our great Motherland," he said, before leading the crowd in repeated chants of "Russia!"

Asked later if he could seek the presidency again in 2030, Mr Putin replied: "It's ridiculous. Do you think I will sit here until I turn 100?"

Mr Putin's campaign spokesman reportedly thanked the UK for the higher than expected turnout of around 60% following the diplomatic row over the Salisbury spy poisoning .

"Once again we were subject to pressure at just the moment when we needed to mobilise," Andrei Kondrashkov was reported to have said.

A mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who observed the election, said there was a "lack of genuine competition" but said the Russia's Central Election Commission administered the process "efficiently and openly".

The organisation's report said: "Restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression... have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition."

French far-right politician Marine Le Pen's National Front party has congratulated Mr Putin, hailing the election as a sign of Russia's "stability and democratic foundations".

The party also called on the European Union to "put an end to its absurd and counterproductive politics of blackmail, threats and sanctions" against Russia.

Mr Putin's nearest challenger, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, secured around 13% of the vote, according to partial results, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky received around 6%.

Mr Putin's most well-known opponent, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny , was rejected as a candidate because he was convicted of fraud in a case widely regarded as politically motivated.

The vote was tainted by allegations of forced voting and election violations as footage released by a government opposition group appeared to show ballot boxes being stuffed.

The presidential election comes amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with Mr Putin addressing the Salisbury spy poisoning for the first time publicly as the results came in.

The UK has blamed the Kremlin for the nerve-agent poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, prompting the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.

Meanwhile, the US has imposed sanctions on 19 Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

There also been criticism from the West of Russia's military support for Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad.

The election took place on the fourth anniversary of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, which led to an array of US and European sanctions.

Mr Putin - who was first became President in December 1999 - did not run in 2008 because of term limits, but was appointed prime minister, a role in which he was widely seen as leader.

He announced weeks before the election that Russia has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of evading missile defences.

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