02/26/2012 10:23 EST | Updated 04/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Anti-Putin protesters form human chain

Thousands of people formed a human chain around the centre of Moscow on Sunday for a protest against President Vladimir Putin's re-election campaign.

Demonstrators wearing white ribbons and white scarves and carrying white balloons held hands as they gathered along the Garden Ring road and called for an end to Putin's firm grip on power.

Opposition groups planned to later hold an unsanctioned rally in Revolution Square to push demands for greater openness in government and an end to what many see as widespread corruption under one-man rule.

Putin is expected to win next Sunday's presidential election, according to according to VTSIOM, the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, Russia's oldest polling research firm. He is running for a third term as president in the March 4 election.

Putin supporters also were out on the Garden Ring on Sunday. Wearing heart-shaped red signs around their necks that said "Putin loves everyone," they copied the protesters by handing out ribbons of their own. Some passerby refused to take the pro-Putin ribbons, which had stripes of white, blue and red like the national flag.

Anti-Putin protests also were held on the Garden Ring on two previous Sundays. Hundreds of demonstrators drove cars decorated with white ribbons and balloons as others waved from the sidewalks and overpasses as the cars went by, horns blaring.

The largest protests the country has seen in two decades began in December following a parliamentary election, which opposition critics say featured widespread vote rigging to boost the results for Putin's party.