‘White ring’ anti-Putin protesters cause chaos

Thousands of cars filled Moscow’s ring road on Sunday in a protest demanding free elections and slamming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s bid to regain his Kremlin job in March polls.

Some 3 000 cars decked with white ribbons and balloons — the colour of the anti-Putin movement — joined the protest, according to organisers, while police said they numbered only 300.

With horns blaring, they drove for some three hours, causing major bottlenecks on the 15km ring road — known as the Garden Ring — encircling city centre.

Some cars sported snowmen on their roofs in the action dubbed “white ring” organised through social networking Internet sites by the Voters League, set up by journalists, bloggers, writers and artists ahead of the March 4 polls to campaign for democratic elections.

Many passers-by, notably elderly people, waved white handkerchiefs at the protesters.

“Today is an example of people who … have come out in the streets of the city to show that we are numerous, that we are afraid of nothing,” said protester Lada Stupishina, 43.

“We want the party of thieves and swindlers that Putin leads to go away,” she added, using an expression made popular by blogger and opposition figure opposant Alexei Navalny to refer to Putin’s United Russia party, tipped to win the elections.

Navalny took part in the protest and told AFP: “There were a great number of passers-by who approved our action. They got pleasure from it, it seems to me. We have taken another citizen’s step, and we had fun.”

Organisers hope to attract at least 50 000 people to a protest in the centre of Moscow on February 4.

Protests in December against the conduct of parliamentary elections mustered tens of thousands of people and showed growing discontent with Putin’s rule.

The protest movement has for the first time shown up chinks in Putin’s once all-conquering popularity but the Russian strongman is still expected to win the presidential polls in the absence of strong challengers.

Putin is standing for a third Kremlin term after his four-year stint as prime minister, in defiance of opposition warnings he has been in power too long. — AFP

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