x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Protesters drive circles around Moscow in anti-Putin statement

Hundreds of Moscow drivers flying white balloons and ribbons circled the Kremlin yesterday in noisy protest against prime minister Vladimir Putin's likely return as president in March 4 polls.

MOSCOW // Hundreds of Moscow drivers flying white balloons and ribbons circled the Kremlin yesterday in noisy protest against prime minister Vladimir Putin's likely return as president in March 4 polls.

The second such auto rally in three weeks was expected to be duplicated in other cities as the opposition sought to keep up momentum after launching in December the biggest wave of anti-Putin rallies in his 12-year rule.

"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.

Nearly 3,500 people had signed up for the event on its Facebook page by the time the afternoon event started in Moscow.

An AFP reporter saw dozens of cheering pedestrians flashing victory signs to cars circling along the 16-kilometre Garden Ring Road with everything from white flags to plastic bags tied to their handles and antennas.

"Volodya, It's Time to Go," said a sign on one Moscow car with a young couple in the front seat, using the diminutive of Vladimir.

But 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.

A similar rally's organiser in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod told Moscow Echo radio that he was wrestled to the ground and beaten up by an unknown assailant moments after leaving his house for the event.

Russia has witnessed a month of weekly rival rallies between Putin 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 likely voters conducted by the Kremlin-linked Public Opinion Foundation showed Mr Putin reclaiming the seat he held from 2000 to 2008 with 60 per cent support.