The Latest: Putin: Weapons development mostly finished

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MOSCOW (AP) – The Latest on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s re-election victory (all times local):

4:40 p.m.

International observers are criticizing Russia for failing to provide a level playing field for competitors in the presidential election that overwhelmingly gave Vladimir Putin another six-year term in the Kremlin.

Leaders of the observation mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that the extensive coverage by state news media of Putin’s activities have given him a significant advantage over seven challengers.

The challengers participated in televised debates that Putin sat out.

“While the incumbent president did not participate in debates or campaigning, extensive and unchallenging news coverage of his official activities continued to provide him with dominant presence in the media,” Marietta Tidei of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly said at a news conference announcing the mission’s preliminary conclusions.

“A choice without real competition as we have seen in this election is not a real choice,” said Michael Georg Link, a coordinator of the observer mission.

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4:30 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia will seek constructive ties with other countries and will not engage in an arms race.

Speaking to his rivals in Russia’s presidential election that he won with nearly 77 percent of the vote, Putin said that he will focus on raising living standards, improving health care and education and dealing with other domestic issues.

He said Monday that “there is no intention to speed up some kind of arms race, and, just the opposite, we will develop constructive relations with all countries of the world.”

Putin noted that “not everything depends on us,” but added that “we will do our best to settle all disputes with our partners using political and diplomatic means” while preserving Russia’s national interests. He said that Russia would even lower its defense spending this year and in 2019.

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3:15 p.m.

International election observers say Russia’s presidential vote was conducted in an orderly fashion but lacked genuine competition.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission noted that Sunday’s vote in which Russian President Vladimir Putin won in a landslide “took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”

It said Monday that Russia’s Central Election Commission “administered the election efficiently and openly” and noted that “after intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers.”

Observers added, however, that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”

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2:40 p.m.

Germany’s president is urging Vladimir Putin to use the occasion of his re-election as Russian president to push for a normalization of relations with Germany and Western Europe.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier congratulated Putin on his victory in a statement Monday.

Steinmeier says Russia and Germany have enjoyed a “traditionally close relationship based upon a wide and solid foundation” and have worked since the Cold War’s end for a “lasting, cooperative peaceful order on our continent.”

But, he says, “we are worryingly far away from that goal today. Mistrust, rearmament and a climate of insecurity contribute to instability.”

Steinmeier says he hopes “we’ll be able to counteract the estrangement of our continent and between the people of Russia and Germany, and that you will use your new term in office for this purpose.”

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1:35 p.m.

Marine Le Pen’s National Front party in France has congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning the Russian presidential election, seeing in his large victory a sign of Russia’s “stability and democratic foundations.”

In a statement released Monday, the far-right party also praised Putin for bringing Russia back to prominence on the world stage.

Without being specific, the National Front then urged the European Union to “put an end to its absurd and counterproductive politics of blackmail, threats and sanctions” against Russia, “a vital ally in the war against terror and our common enemy, the Islamic State.”

A month before the French presidential election last year, Putin hosted Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin. He praised her, saying she represented part of a “quickly developing spectrum of European political forces.”

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11:10 a.m.

Final Russian election results show Vladimir Putin overwhelmingly won a fourth presidential term with 76.67 percent of the vote, his highest score ever.

The Central Election Commission said Monday that communist Pavel Grudinin came in a distant second with 11.78 percent.

Third was ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with 5.66 percent. The only candidate to openly criticize Putin during the campaign, liberal TV star Ksenia Sobchak, won just 1.68 percent. Four other candidates also ran in Sunday’s vote.

Putin’s most serious rival, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race.

The electoral commission said official turnout was 67 percent. But observers reported widespread ballot stuffing and unprecedented pressure on Russians to vote.

Despite those problems, the win gives Putin a strong mandate to pursue his conservative nationalist policies at home and abroad. In the previous presidential election in 2012 Putin polled 63.6 percent of the vote.

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10:40 a.m.

Germany’s foreign minister is calling on Russia to make more “constructive contributions” to dialogue after President Vladimir Putin won re-election.

Heiko Maas said as he arrived Monday at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels: “We assume that Russia will remain a difficult partner, but Russia is also needed when it comes to solving major international conflicts.”

Maas added that “we want to remain in dialogue but we expect constructive contributions from Russia, and more than was the case in the recent past.”

Maas said: “The result of the election in Russia surprised us just as little as the circumstances of this election – we certainly can’t talk in every aspect about a fair political contest as we know it.” He said it’s unacceptable that the election was also conducted in annexed Crimea.

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10:10 a.m.

Russian election authorities have annulled voting results in five districts as they investigate ballot stuffing and other problems in the presidential election.

Central election commission chair Ella Pamfilova outlined to reporters Monday authorities’ efforts to fight violations and hold a transparent election.

Pamfilova denied any incidents of observers being attacked or blocked from polling stations, despite videos posted online.

She insisted that there were “at least two times fewer” violations than in the last presidential vote in 2012, which was marred by problems.

Observers in this election reported widespread cases of ballot stuffing and voters coerced by their employers to cast ballots.

Pamfilova said that with 99.8 percent of votes counted, President Vladimir Putin has 76.7 percent of the vote, his highest score ever. The other seven candidates are far behind.

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7 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crushing re-election victory puts his opponents in a tough spot.

They gathered widespread examples of apparent voting violations in Sunday’s vote, but it’s unlikely to seriously damage Putin given his widespread support.

With 99.8 percent of the vote counted, results showed Putin won almost 77 percent of the vote, well up from his showing in the last election in 2012.

His closest rival, communist Pavel Grudinin, had less than 12 percent. The only candidate to openly criticize Putin in the campaign, TV star Ksenia Sobchak, got less than 2 percent.

Putin’s most serious foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race. He clashed publicly with Sobchak on Sunday night, accusing her of being a Kremlin stooge.

Opposition groups plan a rally Monday in Moscow.

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