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Rolling protest ties up Moscow traffic

Mikhail Metzel/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thousands of cars decked out in white ribbons and balloons took part in yesterday’s protest against Vladimir Putin.

MOSCOW - Thousands of cars flying white ribbons or balloons circled central Moscow yesterday in a show of protest against 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 nearly 10-mile Garden Ring, which has as many as 16 lanes of traffic at its widest points.

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More protesters stood along the side of the road waving white ribbons and flags as the vehicles passed, horns blaring. White ribbons became an opposition symbol in protests 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 preparing for a third big demonstration Feb. 4.

Putin is running in a March 4 presidential election to reclaim the job he held from 2000 to 2008. He is expected to win but is under pressure to do so fairly.

The action yesterday was aimed at building momentum for the protest movement, and it provided another outlet for the creativity that has been a defining feature of the protests.

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.

Although most drivers yesterday were content to tie ribbons and balloons to their cars’ antennas, sideview mirrors, and door handles, some decorated their cars with signs and banners.

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

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