Thousands of Russians formed a human chain around Moscow on Sunday in a final show of opposition to Vladimir Putin, a week ahead of presidential elections he is expected to win.
Tens of thousands braved freezing snowy weather and linked hands around the capital, bearing white balloons and flowers and wearing white scarves and ribbons to symbolize the biggest opposition protests since Putin took power 12 years ago, The Guardian reported.
The protesters lined the Garden Ring, a 16-kilometer, circular road enclosing inner Moscow, for an hour, joined by thousands of motorists who honked their horns in support.
One unbroken line of people reached over the landmark Krymsky Bridge that traverses the Moscow River, according to the Agence France Presse.
Police said at least 11,000 protesters had turned out to take part in the protests, but organizers put the figure three times higher at 30,000.
The event received only minor coverage on Russian state-controlled television newscasts, which focused instead on a remote earthquake in Siberia in which no one was injured and a small pro-Putin rally in the capital.
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Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said the human chain, comprising many middle-class Russians who have benefited from the stability secured by Putin, represented a frightening prospect for those in power:
“The authorities are scared of the peaceful and proud people. The authorities are afraid of the people they can’t buy… so that is why the more we are, the faster we will get rid of those thieves and swindlers,” Nemtsov said, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Smaller anti-Putin demonstrations were also reported in the Siberian cities of Tomsk and Kemerovo and parts of the Ural Mountains region, while some 3,000 protestors marched through Putin’s home city of Saint Petersburg.
The former president and current prime minister is expected to walk to victory at presidential polls on March 4, despite mass protests and increasingly open criticism of the government since disputed parliaments elections in December, according to GlobalPost.
Putin’s approval dropped below 50 percent after vote-rigging accusations were levelled against him, but his popularity rating has recently climbed back and he is expected to take almost two-thirds of the vote on Saturday and thereby avoid a run-off, according to a poll published Friday by Russia’s Levada Center.
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