* Protesters complain of road blocks
* Protest ahead of March 4 presidential vote
* Organisers, police dispute number of protesters
MOSCOW, Feb 19 Hundreds of Russians
protesting against Vladimir Putin drove through Moscow on Sunday
ahead of the March 4 presidential election expected to seal his
grip on power.
Cars adorned with white ribbons and balloons, which have
become the symbol of the largest protest movement against
Putin's 12-year rule, moved bumper-to-bumper through the city,
competing with a rally of his supporters hours earlier.
"There are a lot of people who do not agree with the current
authorities," said Dmitry, 29, standing next to a red car tied
with white ribbons. "We've come out to show ... that we don't
agree (with the situation) and want other people to know how
many of us there are."
The anti-Putin rallies began after a disputed election in
December handed his United Russia party a slim parliamentary
Putin was president from 2000-2008 when he was barred by the
constitution from running for a third successive term but has
remained in charge as Russia's prime minister. His re-election
could see him stay in power until 2024.
A rally of his supporters on Saturday night saw motorists
with pictures of Putin and Russian flags stream along Moscow's
main ring road. Police said there were 2,000 participants.
Putin's supporters say he led the country out of chaos after
the collapse of the Soviet Union and oversaw a rise in living
standards during the oil-fuelled boom of his presidency.
Opponents say state workers are pressured to attend
pro-Putin rallies with a combination of threats and payments and
that police exaggerate the size of the crowds while
underestimating the size of opposition protests.
On Sunday, a police official, cited by news agency
Itar-Tass, said 150 cars had taken part in the protest calling
for fair elections. Organisers, cited by liberal radio station
Ekho Moskvy, said 2,000 had participated.
Bundled up against the cold, people stood on overpasses
above Moscow's main thoroughfares in solidarity with the
drivers, carrying placards that read: "For honest elections".
Sharing pictures on Twitter, protesters complained of closed
streets and road works that appeared around the Kremlin on
Sunday. Outside the Reuters office, municipal workers had piled
snow on a main intersection and worked to remove it throughout
A similar protest was staged on Jan. 29 when organisers said
more than 3,000 motorists took part.
Similar protests were held in other cities, the largest in
St Petersburg, according to Ekho Moskvy.
The protests have revealed dismay among Russians,
particularly middle-class urbanites, who feel they have no say
in politics and that Putin's decision to return to the Kremlin
was thrust upon them.
(Reporting By Thomas Grove; Editing by Janet Lawrence)