|Russians in Moscow form a human chain in protest against Putin and for free elections [Christopher True/Al Jazeera]
Moscow, Russia - Thousands of protesters have joined hands to form an estimated 16km-long human chain in central Moscow a week before presidential elections are set to take place.
The demonstrators, who are calling for free and fair elections after December's disputed parliamentary polls, formed the chain on Sunday along the Garden Ring, a wide road that loops around the capital's central district.
Most of the participants wore the white ribbons that have become a symbol of protests against Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister who is standing for his third term as president.
Pro-Putin demonstrators, wearing ribbons made of the red, white and blue colours of the Russian flag, also held a gathering in the capital that was attended by several dozen people.
The rallies were mostly good-natured and held under the watch of a large police presence.
Al Jazeera's Christopher True asked protesters at both rallies what they hoped to achieve.
|Boris Nemtsov, 52, former deputy prime minister of Russia, opposition rally
I am here for honest elections and for a free Russia.
I am optimistic for the future of Russia, otherwise I wouldn’t stay here.
My message to Mr Putin is: 'Go away, Putin go home.'
If Putin wins, it means just the stagnation and degradation of Russia.
I believe that all the dictators throughout the world have the same end, disaster, for themselves and for the country.
That’s why maybe one year, maybe two years, later, everybody hates him... He’s facing a terrible future.
|Vitaly, 33, doctor, opposition rally
I am here because I am a citizen and now I am at the point where I want to express my point of view. We don’t want blood, we don’t want revolution, we just want to be heard.
The demonstrations are occurring now because Russia has formed a civil society, we have reached this point.
A generation that didn’t live in the USSR [former Soviet Union] has grown up with its own vision.
On my level, I don’t think the opposition has been supported by foreign powers. [But] I don’t exclude such a thing, maybe on a higher level.
Today, we don’t have a single leader to rally around, but maybe a leader will be born from this. This is the beginning of the process. The fact that people went out onto the streets is a big deal.
If Putin wins, I think he will have to do something in the near future, for example housing. The average person can’t buy an apartment on their salary.
|Valeriy, 54, businessman and his son Alexander, 25, sales manager, opposition rally
Valery: I want in our country to be free and have a democratic system of power, changeable and not permanent like now. I want nepotism and theft to be stopped. I want the murders taking place at the political level to be stopped.
I want middle-class and large businesses to develop.
I want Russia to join the civilized nations of the world and have a civilized way of doing business. This is why I am here. I want a guarantee that my business will be protected. I want this Byzantine way of doing business to be stopped.
Alexander: I’m 25 years old and only last year I started to get involved in politics. I’m tired of this unfaithful system in Russia. I get bothered with corruption and that you can only get everything here through connections, ties and links.
Nothing is developing in Russia. Look at our hospitals, look at our schools, not enough finance for medicine or education.
I know some people who work in different spheres such as these and they are telling me how money flows away like water. Where does our money go?
We don’t see where out money goes? I want to know the tax I pay where it goes.
|Andrei, 24, humanities student and waiter, opposition rally
I am demonstrating because I simply can’t stay at home because the political situation is so ugly, because Mr Putin and his system is ugly.
I honestly can’t live with that system.
I have seen a lot of people who have been hit by cars and the people who did it go free.
For me, it’s important to vote against Putin and maybe it will be for [Mikhail] Prokhorov [independent presidential candidate]. They simply can’t rotate [Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, the president], they can’t just sit here for 12 years.
We have to show that we care about people and that we see everything that is going on. I see a lot of people who tell me already that we won’t win but that’s not important.
It’s important that we don’t close our eyes to what’s going on. It’s a lot crime, corruption, the courts are under Kremlin control.
You are not able to find honesty in the courts.
We don’t the need kind of stability where people die in the roads and the people who did it walk free, the courts are bought mostly.
|Kristina, 18, student, pro-Putin rally
I am supporting Putin because of the job he has done for my city of Kursk.
Outside the city he has improved roads and he has done a lot for pensioners.
There are not many people here at the rally but they will come later.
As for the anti-Putin protests, everyone has his own opinion, but they are not right.
I believe they are being supported by Western countries, they have been seen going to the US embassy. You can see everything was planned as even before the December elections they said the result was going to be unfair.
I think Alexei Navalny [the opposition anti-corruption blogger] is a clown.
|Natalia, 56, retired English teacher, pro-Putin rally
I am voting for Putin as there is no alternative, he is the only credible one for president. He stopped the war in Chechnya. I am from Dagestan and I think the same bad things will be stopped there.
I don’t like the Communist Party. I am Jewish and in the early Soviet Union, despite much of the leadership being Jewish, Jewish people hadn’t a chance to enter an institute or university. There was a quota and only one person was allowed. Now there is more freedom, more opportunities.
Sometimes I read [Alexei] Navalny’s blogs. I don’t want to waste my time with him. I don’t think the opposition rallies were organized by Western powers, they can make their own decisions.
Surely, we will win on March 4, why not, everyone could see the support on February 23 [the day of a mass pro-Putin rally in Moscow]. I don’t think that event was forced on anyone. Nobody gave me money, only my will brought me there.
Audio reports from opposition rally at Mayakovsky Square, Moscow