By Megan Davies
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Thousands of Russians joined hands to form a ring around Moscow city centre on Sunday in protest against Vladimir Putin's likely return as president in an election next week.
Many of the protesters who stood in a long line around the 16-km (10-mile) Moscow Garden Ring Road, despite gently falling snow, wore the white ribbons that symbolize the biggest opposition protests since Putin rose to power 12 years ago.
Putin is all but certain to win the presidential election on March 4 but the growing protests have highlighted demands for greater democracy and openness from mainly urban voters fed up with widespread corruption and one-man rule.
"I don't know that there will be any result (from the protest) but I've come to show the government that there are many of us and that there are many people together," said Nikolai Chekalin, a 66-year-old scientist.
"I would like transparency, an honest court and conditions for business to develop."
The mood was festive as the people forming the ring, many of them dressed in white scarves, waved at cars passing by. Many cars hooted in support and some of the protesters chanted: "Russia without Putin."
Some protesters held blown-up condoms - Putin mocked the protesters late last year by saying he had mistaken the white ribbons pinned to their coats for contraceptives.
The organizers said they needed 34,000 people to complete the circle around Moscow's historic centre, which includes the Kremlin, the main centre of power in Russia. It was not immediately clear how many had gathered.
The protests began after allegations of fraud in a parliamentary election won by Putin's party on December 4. The Kremlin has offered token electoral reforms but not met any of the protesters' main demands, including a rerun of the election.
(Reporting by Megan Davies, Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Guy Faulconbridge)