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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin met Thursday with young scientists and entrepreneurs, promising to encourage new talent three days before the presidential vote he is certain to win.
Putin told the youth forum that "the country wants each of you to make it, and your personal success stories will make Russia successful."
"Shall we ensure the country's future together?" he said, drawing shouts of "Yes!" and applause.
Putin is certain to win a sweeping victory in Sunday's vote, securing another six-year term after 18 years in power, in part on his argument that he must stand up to Western aggressors.
Presidential opposition candidate and former TV star Ksenia Sobchak also held a big rally Thursday, declaring her intention to create a new liberal party. She said she would pool efforts with Dmitry Gudkov, a former lawmaker and Kremlin critic.
Sobchak broke down in tears at Russia's televised presidential debate Wednesday night, where she was the only candidate to criticize Putin and was frequently interrupted by others.
Sobchak has posed as a defender of liberal values and denounced Putin's policies, but many observers believe the Kremlin has given its tacit blessing for her to join the contest hoping that she would add an element of competition to the otherwise lackluster race.
A Russian election monitoring group said Thursday that authorities forced the closure of a center created to collect complaints of violations in the presidential vote.
Roman Udot of the group Golos said in a statement Thursday that it signed a deal and paid for an election call center but the landlords rescinded the deal under pressure from government officials.
The head of Russia's electoral commission said she hopes that 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 has been barred from the election because of a criminal conviction widely seen as politically motivated, and he has urged Russians to boycott the presidential vote.
Meanwhile, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a mushrooming diplomatic scandal over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain won't disrupt Russia's presidential vote.
Peskov said the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia "doesn't affect" the campaign for Sunday's election, which he called Russia's top priority. Peskov and other Russian officials have strongly denied Moscow's responsibility in the March 4 attack in Salisbury that has left both Skripals in critical condition.
See complete Associated Press coverage of the Russian election: —https://www.apnews.com/tag/RussiaElection