Shocking footage in Russia shows evidence of large-scale 'vote-rigging' ahead of this weekend's parliamentary elections, opposition activists claim.
Huge queues of 'state employees' including soldiers were seen at polling stations around the country amid claims they had been ordered to vote at specific locations to sway the result.
In St Petersburg, a woman was detained after carrying a bag to a voting place stuffed with 100-plus ballot papers.
Vladimir Putin casts his vote online for the parliamentary elections as he remains in self-isolation due to Covid
Russia on Friday began three days of voting in nation-wide parliamentary elections and local contests.
Although 14 parties are taking part, many candidates who are considered to be anti-Putin have been banned from entering.
Key opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the fiercest critic of Vladimir Putin, remains in jail after he was allegedly poisoned with a chemical warfare agent, and anyone associated with him is barred from the vote.
Other Russian opposition figures even flown into exile, fearing imprisonment.
Golos movement for the defence of voters' rights claimed as many as 1,600 alleged violations but they had not been verified.
Activists pointed to 'suspicious' and 'untypical' snaking queues in Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg and Moscow as evidence that state employees had been ordered to register and vote at certain polling stations close to their work, with claims they were 'instructed' to support pro-Putin United Russia.
Huge queues of 'state employees' including soldiers were seen at polling stations around the country
The charge was robustly denied by the Kremlin.
But in Khabarovsk soldiers were seen surging into a polling station to vote, while a swarm of national guards massed at a polling station in Omsk to cast their votes.
Troubling footage of a woman named Lyubov Zenkova in St Petersburg appeared suspicious.
She was challenged after refusing to open her bag at a polling station.
Election official Vladimir Molodozhenya told Fontanka news outlet: 'The woman was stopped by a policeman at the entrance to the station.
Russia on Friday began three days of voting in nation-wide parliamentary elections and local contests
'She had a bag in her hand, which he asked to open. There was a stack of ballots, more than one hundred.
'She turned around and walked away.'
The official said: 'We insisted on her detention, and the police caught up with her.
'She was taken to the 78th police department along with a bag.'
Independent TV channel Rain claimed the woman had been seen talking privately with the senior local election official.
Folded votes were also seen clumped together in a ballot box in Krasnoyarsk - a sign of rigging, says the opposition.
Other footage reportedly shot today in St Petersburg appeared to show multiple voting by people in a polling station.
But electors in the city legitimately had to vote in up to five contests so it was not clear that this represented abuse.
Although 14 parties are taking part, many candidates who are considered to be anti-Putin have been banned from entering
The spectre of vote-rigging has dogged voting in all recent Russian elections.
The Kremlin was forced to deny that long lines of workers queuing to vote was evidence of state workers being coerced to cast ballots for pro-Putin candidates in the United Russia party.
One video showed hundreds queueing in Moscow, near the Russian foreign ministry, but similar scenes were seen around the country's 11 time zones.
'They made a decision and came to vote, you must agree,' insisted Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
'Or maybe some of them work on Saturday and Sunday, perhaps they have a shift.
'There is absolutely no problem in this, absolutely.'
Peskov had been asked to comment on the queues which, according to the Interfax news agency, have been observed outside police voting precincts.
'Why should we assume that this is coercion? I just do not understand the essence of your question.
The Kremlin was forced to deny that long lines of workers queuing to vote was evidence of state workers being coerced to cast ballots
'People come to vote. It's a three-day vote, many people want to vote quickly and free themselves up for the weekend.
'Where is the conclusion that this is coercion?'
Putin - in quarantine after his entourage was hit by a Covid outbreak - voted online.
He will have the chance of winning a flat or car in an election lottery for online voters.
Navalny and other opposition figures called for 'smart voting' - even for the Communists - in a bid to defeat pro-Putin candidates.
Results will be declared on Sunday night.