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MOSCOW - Millions of Russians, from Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the Far East, voted on Sunday to elect a new president, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former president, the strong favorite.
Four other candidates are running - Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, the Liberal Democratic Party's Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergei Mironov from A Just Russia, and independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov - for the six-year presidential term.
Voting ended at 8 pm in each of Russia's nine time zones. Preliminary results were expected to be announced in the early hours on Monday.
In the spring snow on Sunday morning in Moscow, voters lined up to cast their ballots. Gregory Mikhailovich, a construction worker, was the first in a long queue at a polling station in Moscow State University.
"The vote is very important for every Russian. Otherwise there's no need to come here and do this," Mikhailovich, who returned to work after he cast his vote, said.
"I hope the new leader improves our lives and our children's lives."
With Putin, who held the presidency for two terms from 2000 to 2008, widely expected to secure more than half the vote and win directly in the first round, his supporters planned for early celebrations near Manezh Square on Sunday night.
That is only part of 26 rallies pro-Kremlin youth movements plan to hold in Moscow between Sunday and Monday, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda Daily.
If Putin wins in the first round, he will be inaugurated president in early May, replacing the current office holder, Dmitry Medvedev. Putin has promised to appoint Medvedev prime minister.
Authorities in the Russian capital mobilized 16,000 police officers, 14,000 volunteers, more than 4,000 guards and 2,000 police academy students for security on election day.