Russia sets March date for presidential elections

Workers attach an election poster featuring Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, appealing to people to vote for the United Russia political party in 4 December parliamentary elections, onto an office building in the southern city of Krasnodar on Thursday
Image caption Vladimir Putin is making a bid to return to the presidency, and will be hard to beat

The upper house of Russia's parliament has set 4 March 2012 as the date for the presidential election.

In line with the law, election campaigning will begin immediately, said local news agencies.

Former President Vladimir Putin is the overwhelming favourite, observers say.

He was constitutionally barred from standing for a third consecutive term in 2008 and was succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev, while he became prime minister.

Mr Medvedev agreed to switch roles with Mr Putin at the United Russia annual party congress in September.

Should he win, Mr Putin could also enjoy an increased stay in office, after a constitutional amendment in 2008 lengthened the presidential term from four to six years from 2012.

Mr Putin's backers say he offers stability, but liberal opponents accuse him of authoritarianism.

Russians will vote in parliamentary elections on 4 December, with United Russia party also the frontrunner.

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