Russians have gone to the polls to elect regional governors and mayors in key cities in the first such vote since President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin.
Voters went to the polls on Sunday to elect different layers of local and regional government in almost all the country's regions, with the largest cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg among the few not to be holding any polls.
The polls allowed voters in five different regions across the country to elect governors for the first time since Putin abolished such direct elections in 2004.
"The most important point of the single day of voting is that after an eight-year break we are holding elections for the highest officials of regions: elections for governors," said Leonid Ivlev, the electoral commission's deputy chairman, in televised comments.
Putin introduced presidential appointment of governors after the deadly Beslan school siege in 2004, calling it a necessary measure to prevent separatism and crime.
But the move was widely criticised by the opposition and Putin's successor as president Dmitry Medvedev signed off on a law reviving direct elections for governors shortly before leaving office in May this year.
Attention also focused on the Moscow satellite town of Khimki where eco-warrior turned protest leader Yevgenia Chirikova was standing for mayor in the first such race to be contested by an organiser of mass anti-Putin rallies.
On Sunday morning, Chirikova, a local businesswoman who started by campaigning against road construction, told journalists at her campaign office of violations, including observers being barred from viewing the voting.
A special website, Webvybory2012.ru, began showing live footage from more than 5,000 polling stations, an innovation introduced in March presidential polls after mass protests against rigging of last year's parliamentary polls.
"I would like the elections to be held in an exemplary way today, without violations," said Vladimir Churov, the head of the central electoral commission, in televised comments.