Japan Sends 3-Person Team for Duma Vote

TOKYO -- Japan dispatched a team of just three officials to Russia on Tuesday to monitor Sunday's State Duma elections amid an international dispute over the credibility of an election that is expected to bolster President Vladimir Putin's power.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said Russia had accepted a Japanese offer to send observers for the vote but limited the team's size to three.

The ministry acknowledged that it was difficult for such a small team to effectively monitor the poll.

"On practical terms, it's unclear how much a team of three can do. But at least it's better than zero," said Ken Ono, of the ministry's Russia section, adding that Moscow had also restricted teams to a similar size in previous elections.

He said the Japanese monitors would be restricted to monitoring election campaigns in the capital and would also observe ballot counting at several polling stations.

In an angry exchange with Washington, Putin on Monday accused U.S. State Department officials of pressuring the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to cancel election monitoring plans in a move he said was designed to cast doubt on the poll's credibility.