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Cars circle central Moscow in anti-Putin protest

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ANDREY BULAY | January 29, 2012 10:48 AM EST | AP

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MOSCOW — Thousands of cars flying white ribbons or balloons circled central Moscow on Sunday in a show of protest against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The cars – ranging from luxury sedans and sporty convertibles to old, exhaust-spewing Soviet models – jammed the inner lanes all along the 16-kilometer (nearly 10-mile) Garden Ring, which has as many as 16 lanes of traffic at its widest points.

More protesters stood along the side of the road waving white ribbons and flags as the vehicles passed, their horns blaring. White ribbons became an opposition symbol during protests that broke out after a fraud-tainted Dec. 4 parliamentary election won by Putin's party.

Tens of thousands turned out for two protest rallies last month to demand free and fair elections, and protest organizers are now preparing for a third big demonstration Feb. 4.

Putin is running in a March 4 presidential election to reclaim the post he held from 2000 to 2008. He is expected to win, but is under pressure to show he can win fairly.

Sunday's action was aimed at helping to build momentum for the protest movement and it provided another outlet for the creativity that has been a defining feature of the demonstrations.

While most drivers were content to tie white ribbons and balloons to their cars' antennas, sideview mirrors and door handles, some decorated their vehicles with original signs and banners.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the traveling protest action was a "wonderful advertisement" for the Feb. 4 rally.

The protest movement has been driven by young professionals, cultural figures and other members of the urban middle class, many of them connected through online social networks.

Kremlin supporters have begun to try to counter their activism by organizing rallies by blue-collar workers in support of Putin and the stability he promises. The first rally was held Saturday in Yekaterinburg, the capital of an industrial region in the Ural Mountains east of Moscow.

Videos of the rally posted online showed one speaker, a member of Russia's parliament, trying to get the crowd of several thousand to shout "Ural, Russia, Putin!" The response was muted.