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By Yevgenia Borisova

Khalyaf Gafurov says he has concrete proof that election fraud took place at his village in Bashkortostan: Only one vote for Gannady Zyuganov showed up in the official tally, but he knows that both he and his wife voted for the Communist candidate.

"I knew for sure that [in addition to me] at least my wife voted for Zyuganov," said Gafurov, a Communist observer at the No. 1592 precinct in the town of Kumarly.

Now 12 other people from the village in the Arkhangelsk district of Bashkortostan have also signed a statement that they cast ballots for Zyuganov.

Gafurov said those votes had simply been thrown away by the elections commission, as had Communist votes at the No. 1594 precinct in neighboring Tavakachevo. He said a friend, a teacher who served as an elections commission member, was forced to stand by and watch as ballots for Zyuganov were thrown away by the commission head and an equal number of ballots for Vladimir Putin were put in.

"What could I have done? He [the commission head] is our school director, and I am only a teacher," the friend complained to Gafurov.

Bashkortostani government officials have steadfastly stated that the republic's election results are valid. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, who keeps a tight rule over the republic, told Interfax recently that not only had fraud been nonexistent but also the Communists had filed no complaints over election fraud.

Rinat Gabidullin, a secretary with the Bashkortostan Communist Party, hotly contests both claims.

"They are not true," he said in a telephone interview.

Gabidullin said fraud had been widespread and "dozens" of complaints have been filed with the federal Central Elections Commission in Moscow over fraud in Bashkortostan.

A number of towns Bashkortostan have followed the lead of Gafurov's village of Kumarly in firing off letters of protest to the elections commission in Moscow.

Ravil Khammatov, a campaigner for Zyuganov in the village of Mechetlino, complained to the federal authorities that votes for Putin and Zyuganov had been swapped at his No. 2921 precinct.

"After counting the ballots, Zyuganov got 252 votes and Putin 110," he wrote in the complaint.

But the final tally at the village in the Salavat district showed Zyuganov with 110 votes and Putin with 252, he said.

"That is how the elections took place in Bashkortostan, that is how Putin won," Khammatov said.

He added that Communists had sent observers to three of the Arkhangelsk district's 35 precincts, and Zyuganov won a majority vote only in those three precincts. Zyuganov beat by Putin 327 votes to 262 votes at polling station No. 1562 in Abzanovo; 128 votes to 92 votes at station No. 1586 in Kysyndy; and 114 votes to 69 votes at No. 1587 in Zaitovo.

All 69 villagers in Stariye Irnykshi in the Arkhangelsk district have signed a letter of protest to the federal authorities that says they voted for Zyuganov at the No. 1582 precinct. Official results from that station showed only 21 votes for Zyuganov.

The villagers called the election a mockery.

"Who gave the head of our village administration : and her election commission the right to manipulate our votes and mock our election rights as granted by the Constitution?" they wrote.

Klavdiya Grigoryeva, a member of the election commission at the No. 514 precinct in Priyutovo in the Belebei region, said 1,092 votes were registered for Putin while only 862 people voted for him.

She said that after the votes were counted at the end of the election day, Zyuganov had 356 votes, Zhirinovsky had 24, Titov had 21 and Yavlinsky 12. But the official results left Zyuganov with 177 votes and Zhirinovsky, Titov and Yavlinsky all got zeros.

Putin did not ride to victory in the republic only because of fraud at the precincts but also through strong-arm tactics, some voters and observers said.

Kumalak villagers, who voted at the No. 1427 precinct in the Yanaul region, said their bosses forced them to vote for Putin.

"The head of the Urozhai collective farm threatened villagers that they would not get hay and fodder for their animals and would be fired if they did not vote for Putin," said a letter signed by eight villagers that was published in the local Nash Vybor newspaper.

"The head of the Yanaul education department also treated his subordinate school directors the same way, and those directors pushed for Putin at parents meetings," they wrote.

Gabidullin said he believes pressure from officials at various levels of the republic's government also played a role in the vote.

"The heads of district administrations are not elected here but appointed by the president," Gabidullin said. "They are in his full control and have to fulfill their jobs, which was to get [Putin] 80 percent of the votes in the regions and 60 percent in the towns."

"Another task was to provide a substantial gap between the votes cast for Putin and Zyuganov," he added.

Rafael Mutallapov, deputy secretary of the Sterlitamak Communist Party, has sent a complaint about such tactics to Valentin Nikitin, a Communist State Duma deputy representing Bashkortostan.

"Even 1 1/2 months before the elections [Sterlitamak administration chief Khaidar] Shagiyev strictly warned all collective farm and village administration leaders that they would have to resign if they got less than an 80 percent vote for Putin," he wrote.

In another letter, Mutallapov detailed a similar situation at the No. 3045 precinct.

"Avangard collective farm director Rashit Ibragimov warned me and another Communist member of the election commission that we must not interfere with his work at the precinct," he quoted a local Communist observer identified as N.D. Puras as saying.

"He told me: 'If you do not assist Putin to win, I will sack you both - I will have no problem finding a reason to do so - and you will not get wheat or animal fodder, or a tractor to till your fields. I will be sacked by Shagiyev.'"

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