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Putin's thorn threatens protest as incumbent wins Moscow race

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By The Associated Press
Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 8:18 p.m.

MOSCOW — Opposition leader Alexei Navalny swept up far more votes than expected on Sunday but finished second in Moscow's mayoral election, a pivotal contest that has energized Russia's small opposition in ways that could pose a risk to the Kremlin in the days and years ahead.

Even so, Navalny said he suspected that the vote count was inflated for the Kremlin-backed incumbent, and he threatened to call his supporters out onto the streets to protest on Monday if concerns were not addressed.

Nearly complete results released early on Monday showed Navalny with more than 27 percent of the vote and incumbent Sergei Sobyanin with a clear lead of 51 percent, just enough to avoid a runoff. Exit polls predicted Navalny would get as much as 32 percent.

As the results began to trickle in two hours after the polls closed, Navalny said he suspected the vote count was being manipulated.

“We don't recognize the results that are currently being announced, and I would like to say that we won't give up one vote that we received,” Navalny told reporters at his campaign headquarters.

The election was being watched for what it bodes for the future of the opposition and for Navalny. He's been convicted of embezzlement in a case considered part of a Kremlin effort to sideline him, but his strong showing could lead to a shortening of his five-year sentence if the Kremlin feels it would defuse discontent.

Navalny's campaign said its own exit polls showed Sobyanin below 50 percent. A separate vote count by observers cast doubt on Sobyanin's clear majority.

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