Thousands of Russians opposed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's planned return to the presidency have formed a human chain around Moscow, one week ahead of the presidential election which Putin easily expects to win.
Thousands of Russians have linked hands and formed a 16-kilometer (10-mile) human chain around central Moscow in a symbolic protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's expected re-election as president.
Many of the protesters, frustrated with widespread corruption and allegations of voter fraud, wore white ribbons and scarves symbolizing the growing anti-Putin movement. Though it was not yet clear how many people had gathered, organizers said they would need 34,000 people to form the “Great White Ring” along Moscow's Garden Ring Road.
"I don't know that there will be any result [from the protest] but I've come to show the government that there are many of us and that there are many people together," Nikolai Chekalin, a 66-year-old scientist, told the Reuters news agency.
Some passing drivers honked their support as protesters chanted "Russia without Putin."
Putin expected to easily win re-election
Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 and since then has held the position of prime minister, is expected to easily return to the government's top leadership position for a third term in the March 4 election.
The unprecedented protests, which have gathered steam since allegations of fraud following the victory of Putin's party in a parliamentary election in December, have demanded greater democracy and openness.
The Kremlin has refused to meet any of the protesters' main demands, which include a rerun of the election, but the protests have dented Putin's image as a strong leader.
Putin supporters were also out on the ring road on Sunday, wearing heart-shaped signs with the words "Putin loves everyone."
cmk/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)