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DATE=2/13/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA DEADLINE (L) NUMBER=2-259107 BYLINE=BILL GASPERINI DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Today is the deadline for candidates to file registration papers for Russia's presidential election, due to be held late next month. And there is no lack of prospective candidates, although only one man has a real chance of winning the March 26th vote. Bill Gasperini reports from Moscow. TEXT: Russia's Central Election Commission has been a busy place over the last few days. By law, Sunday is the deadline for potential presidential candidates to file an application with the commission. Each application must be accompanied by at least 500- thousand signatures, collected by supporters. The commission then has to verify the signatures and formally register the candidate. By early Sunday the commission had received over ten applications, with two candidates already registered: Communist party chief Gennady Zyuganov and a lesser- known candidate from a party called "Spiritual Heritage". But all eyes are on Acting President Vladimir Putin, the man who opinion polls show to be way out in front of everyone else. Mr. Putin's signature list is to be considered by Tuesday, and is sure to be approved. Mr. Zyuganov is the only real challenger to Mr. Putin, whose popularity stems largely from his tough stand in the bloody war against Chechen rebels. But even the Communist leader stands little chance of beating Russia's acting leader; Opinion polls show over half the electorate is likely to vote for Mr. Putin as opposed to about 20 percent for Mr. Zyuganov. Other likely candidates include liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky and extreme nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Their poll ratings are only in the single digits. While Mr. Putin is in front for now, things such as a major battlefield disaster in Chechnya could dent his popularity. Mr. Zyuganov and other candidates have also called on Mr. Putin to clarify his stand on key issues, such as economic policy. An air of mystery still surrounds Mr. Putin, the former spy agency chief who became acting president when Boris Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve. Some support could even shift to Mr. Zyuganov for a uniquely Russian reason: last week the government announced new taxes that will increase the price of vodka. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote on March 26th, a second round (of voting) will have to be held. (Signed) NEB/BG/PLM TEXT: NEB/WTW/ 13-Feb-2000 07:02 AM EDT (13-Feb-2000 1202 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .