Kostroma: As Russians voted in local elections set to confirm the ruling party's dominance, the opposition reported mass vote rigging and police stormed the office of independent vote monitors.
The local voting across 83 regions held yesterday were expected to be easily won by the United Russia party which supports President Vladimir Putin.
Although Moscow did not participate in the ballot, 21 regions were electing new governors and 11 electing regional parliaments.
With the last polls closing by 1800 GMT, results were to be officially announced today.
The polls are a key indicator of the public mood ahead of general elections next year and after economic hardships due to falling oil prices and sanctions linked to the Ukraine crisis.
The main challenge to the Kremlin comes in the sleepy city of Kostroma around 350 kilometres northeast of Moscow, in the one region where the opposition has been allowed to stand for election.
The RPR-Parnas liberal opposition coalition which is fielding two candidates, includes the party of slain Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov and is fronted by Alexei Navalny -- an anti-corruption crusader and fearless Kremlin critic -- and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov.
Navalny said last night the party's exit polls showed RPR-Parnas had received six percent of the vote, enough to squeeze a candidate into the regional legislature.
In an interview with AFP, Navalny claimed lower exit polls figures published by state-controlled pollsters were "complete rubbish."
"Right now we are trying to defend our results," Navalny said. "In Russia, things are the way they are: today exit polls show six per cent, tomorrow morning we can wake up and see one per cent."
The coalition's candidates have been disqualified from other regional polls in a move it called politically motivated.
Though votes were being held in 83 regions, just under half -- 42 of them -- were considered important. Many of the others were taking place in tiny rural areas.
Activists and observers in Kostroma reported mass violations including so-called "cruise voting" where voters are bussed around polling stations, voting at each one, after obtaining absentee ballots.