Pedestrians waved in support of the protesters who were trying to bring awareness to their anti-Putin campaign [AFP]

Cars covered with white ribbons and balloons were driven around Moscow in a protest demanding free elections and criticising Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to regain his Kremlin job in March polls.

While organisers said some 3,000 cars participated in the event on Sunday, police said they numbered only 300. White is the colour of the anti-Putin movement.

With horns blaring, they drove for some three hours, causing major bottlenecks on the 100km of road encircling the Russian capital.

Some cars sported snowmen on their roofs in the action dubbed "white ring", which was organised through social networking websites 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.

'Fun protest'

Navalny took part in the protest and told the AFP news agency: "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 appears to have lowered Putin's once overwhelming popularity, but he 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.

Source: Agencies