( RIA Novosti ) - Russia's top election official said turnout at Sunday's presidential election reached 16% by noon Moscow time exceeding similar figures in the December parliamentary polls and the 2004 presidential vote.
"Turnout across Russia is 16% as of now," Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Vladimir Churov said speaking at an international information center in Moscow, opened for more than 2,000 Russian and foreign reporters accredited to cover the polls.
Election officials earlier forecast turnout at 65-70%, but critics pointed to pressure on voters, especially employees of state-run organizations.
The election is expected to bring victory to current leader Vladimir Putin's preferred successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Churov said turnout data have been provided by regions in Russia's 11 time zones stretching from the Far East as of 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time.
Polling stations in Russia's westernmost region of Kaliningrad, the last of a total of 96,300 stations, will close at 9 p.m. Moscow time (6 p.m. GMT), when exit polls will be announced.
Churov earlier said CEC would sum up preliminary vote results at 10 a.m. (7 a.m. GMT) on Monday, and publish final results on March 7.
Putin appealed to Russians on Friday, the final day for campaigning, urging them to participate in the polls.
" Russia's movement forward must not stop, changes for the better must be carried on," he said. "I am asking you to vote for our common future, for Russia's future on Sunday."
The Kremlin-backed front-runner, Medvedev, 42, enjoyed about 70% of voter support, according to opinion poll results published in the run-up to the election.
Putin, credited for presiding over brisk economic growth and Russia's reemergence as a political power on the world stage, has openly backed Medvedev as his potential successor and agreed to be prime minister if his ally won the polls.
Critics highlighted hidden campaigning in the media in favor Medvedev. Europe's main election watchdog, the OSCE, and its parliamentary assembly decided to boycot the election over restrictions imposed by Russia. Russia denied the allegations, accusing the organization of bias.