The Latest: Vote monitoring group warns of interference

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on the Russian presidential election taking place on Sunday, March 18 (all times local):

5:15 p.m.

A Russian election monitoring group says government authorities forced the closure of a center created to collect complaints of violations in Sunday’s presidential vote.

Roman Udot of the group Golos said in online statements Thursday that it signed a deal and paid for a call center, but the landlords rescinded the deal under pressure from government security officers.

The head of Russia’s electoral commission said she hopes Golos finds a new site. Ella Pamfilova was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying, “It is in our interest that everything works.”

Election commission representatives met Thursday with lawyers for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose supporters are seeking to observe the voting. Navalny himself is barred from the election, which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win overwhelmingly.

Accusations of ballot stuffing and mass voter fraud marred past elections.

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2:10 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says a mushrooming diplomatic scandal over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain won’t disrupt Russia’s presidential election.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal “doesn’t affect” the campaign for Sunday’s election, which he called Russia’s top priority.

Peskov strongly denied Russian responsibility in the March 4 attack.

The Russian campaign remains lackluster just three days before the vote. Putin is overwhelmingly expected to win another term after 18 years in power, riding in part on his argument that he must stand up to Western aggressors.

Opposition candidate and former TV star Ksenia Sobchak is holding a big rally Thursday, after breaking down in tears at the final televised debate Wednesday night. She was the only candidate to criticize Putin.

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