Ma'an News Agency
December 9, 2011 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli officials were squirming in embarrassment on Friday over remarks by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman after he described Russia's contested parliamentary elections as "free and democratic."

Lieberman's comments, which were reported by Russian news agency Itar-Tass, come as Moscow struggles with a wave of protests over allegations of vote rigging in Sunday's elections.

Top world diplomats have also expressed grave concerns over the outcome of the vote, which observers say was marred by widespread irregularities.

"Such praise is appalling and deeply embarrassing. These remarks in no way reflect our official position," a senior government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Such comments give "an extremely bad impression" he said, adding that the Moldovan-born former bouncer had made his remarks "without consulting" with other Israeli officials.

Senior foreign ministry officials quoted by Haaretz newspaper also described Liebarman's remarks as "disgraceful."

In a televised meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this week, Lieberman said he had been briefed by a small delegation of Israeli observers, including an MP from his ultranationalist Israel Beitenu party.

"Their answer was quite clear: The elections were absolutely fair, free and democratic. This is my opinion because I rely on our observers," he was quoted as saying.

The elections, which saw Putin's ruling party return to power with a sharply reduced majority, were marred by "frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation," the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe said.

Earlier this week, both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they had "serious concerns" about the conduct of the elections, with similar concerns raised by Paris and Berlin.


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