( AP ) - Russia has said that only 70 OSCE election observers can monitor its upcoming parliamentary vote and has imposed restrictions on how long they can stay, the organization said Wednesday, describing the curbs as unprecedented.
Campaigning starts Saturday for the elections, and most voters are expected to support the main pro-Kremlin party.
United Russia, which controls the current parliament, is expected to consolidate its position in the Dec. 2 ballot, especially after President Vladimir Putin announced a month ago he would lead the party ticket.
Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, said Russia limited the number of observers to "up to 70" and was restricting how long they could stay in the country to the "short term." She said the letter's wording was ambiguous and the time limits were not clear.
"We have never received such an invite, which clearly restricts the work of observers," she said. "That is unprecedented and will affect our ability to do our work in a serious and meaningful way."
The OSCE - in which 56 countries from Europe, central Asia and North America participate - sent 400 observers for the last parliamentary election in 2003 who stayed less than a week. An additional 56 long-term experts remained about six weeks, Gunnarsdottir said.
Russia's Central Election Committee informed the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, of the restrictions in a letter Wednesday. The letter was faxed to the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE branch charged with observing elections, Gunnarsdottir said.
Russia repeatedly has criticized the OSCE monitoring process, suggesting observers are biased. OSCE observers described the 2003 election as a step backward for democracy, saying the state used the media and other levers to favor United Russia.