Putin urges voters to "vote for our future"

(dpa) - Russian President Vladimir Putin urged voters Friday to go to the polls in the presidential elections on Sunday, amid widespread voter apathy in view of prospects that his hand- picked successor was virtually guaranteed to win.

In televised statement to the nation, the outgoing president stressed "how important citizens' trust is for the president and how necessary it is for an efficient and steady work, for stability."

Putin saida about the vote, coming one month after Russia's parliamentary elections: "The finish of the second and crucial stage for the renewal of the higher echelons of power."

The Kremlin leader had tipped his Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor two weeks after Putin's party United Russia won a huge solid majority in the Parliamentary vote.

Putin has said he would become prime minister to a Medvedev presidency and is considered the one source of Medvedev's power.

Friday was the last day for official campaign before the "day of silence" preceeding Sunday's elections.

Putin, echoing slogans on campaign posters showing him and Medvedev walking together, urged the nation: "Go to the polls on Sunday and vote for our future, for the future of Russia."

But the encouragement was tepid compared to bristling rhetoric ahead of the December parliamentary election when he said the vote was needed to protect the country against enemy "jackals," "wolves" or "shadowy sponsors of Orange Revolution."

The December parliamentary elections were marred by accusations of administrative pressure to achieve a high voter turnout, raising fears of this being repeated again on Sunday.

Workers in various regions had complained that they were forced to travel to vote at polling stations set up in their work places, while bosses said they had been threatened with losing their jobs if the figures in favour of the dominant party were not high enough.

A civil servant in the Russian city of Tambov, 480 kilometers south-east of Moscow, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Friday that university teachers in the region had been order to pressure their students into voting "correctly," or face losing their jobs.

"Students are forced to vote not at their place of residence, but under the control of their teachers to achieve 100 per cent turnout," he said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

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