Drivers in Moscow anti-Putin protest
Moscow - Hundreds of Moscow drivers flying white balloons and ribbons circled the Kremlin on Sunday in a noisy protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's likely return as president in March 4 polls.
The second such car rally in three weeks was picked up on a smaller scale in other cities as the opposition sought to keep up momentum after launching the biggest wave of anti-Putin rallies in his 12-year rule in December.
"The closer we manage to get to the Kremlin, the more effective this event will be," the protest movement's League of Voters said in a statement.
Organisers said more than 2 000 took part in the Moscow even. Police put the figure closer to 150 and blamed motorists for a handful of accidents that played havoc with traffic and blocked several central tunnels.
Some witnesses reported seeing cars emblazoned with small portraits of Putin getting into the stream of traffic and then stopping their vehicles in an apparent bid to interrupt the procession.
AFP reporters saw dozens of cheering pedestrians flashing victory signs to cars circling along the 16km Garden Ring Road with everything from white flags to plastic bags tied to their handles and antennas.
"Volodya, It's Time to Go," a sign using the diminutive of Vladimir said in the window of one car with a young couple inside.
Others attached white stuffed animals to their vehicle rooftops and even tied white handkerchief around the necks of their favourite pets.
Organiser beaten up
The organiser of a similar rally in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod told Moscow Echo radio he had been wrestled to the ground and beaten up by an unknown assailant moments after leaving his house for the event.
Organisers in the central Russian city of Samara told AFP that around 100 cars joined a rally stretching 30km along the city's main streets. Similar figures were reported in Siberian hub of Novosibirsk and Tomsk.
The anti-Putin movement intends to spread its reach beyond Russia later on Sunday by holding mini-rallies in Paris as well as San Francisco and New York.
Russia has witnessed a month of weekly rival rallies between Putin's foes and his state-backed supporters in advance of elections that the 59-year-old former KGB spy is almost certain to win.
A poll of probable voters conducted by the Kremlin-linked Public Opinion Foundation showed Putin reclaiming the seat he held from 2000 to 2008 with 60% support.
Putin's youth movement attempted to steal the opposition's thunder by quickly arranging their own car run around the Garden Ring Road on Saturday night.
Big state rallies
They displayed pictures of a youthful-looking Putin in sunglasses and floated Russian flags from their cars in an event the city police said drew 2 000 vehicles.
"With Putin Driving, Everything Will Go Smoothly," one sign said.
"Putin in the Driver's Seat," said another slogan stamped on hundreds of cars.
State television showed some participants blasting Louis Armstrong's "Blueberry Hill" in commemoration of Putin's surprise performance of the jazz classic at a charity event two years ago.
At least 50 000 people attended rallies in support of Putin across Russia on Saturday in advance of a mass demonstration called for Thursday in Moscow on Defenders of the Fatherland Day.
The opposition for its part intends to create a human chain around the Garden Ring next Sunday.