MOSCOW - Hundreds of Moscow drivers flying white balloons and ribbons circled the Kremlin on Sunday in a noisy protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's likely return as president in March 4 polls.

The second such auto rally in three weeks was picked up on a smaller scale in other cities as the opposition sought to keep up momentum after launching the biggest wave of anti-Putin rallies in his 12-year rule in December.

"The closer we manage to get to the Kremlin, the more effective this event will be," the protest movement's League of Voters said in a statement.

Organisers said more than 2,000 took part in the Moscow event. Police put the figure closer to 150 and blamed motorists for a handful of accidents that played havoc with traffic and blocked several central tunnels.

Some witnesses reported seeing cars emblazoned with small portraits of Putin getting into the stream of traffic and then stopping their vehicles in an apparent bid to interrupt the procession.

AFP reporters saw dozens of cheering pedestrians flashing victory signs to cars circling along the 16-kilometre (10-mile) Garden Ring Road with everything from white flags to plastic bags tied to their handles and antennas.

"Volodya, It's Time to Go," a sign using the diminutive of Vladimir said in the window of one car with a young couple inside.

Others attached white stuffed animals to their vehicle rooftops and even tied white handkerchief around the necks of their favourite pets.

The organiser of a similar rally in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod told Moscow Echo radio he had been wrestled to the ground and beaten up by an unknown assailant moments after leaving his house for the event. Organisers in the central Russian city of Samara told AFP that around 100 cars joined a rally stretching 30 kilometres along the city's main streets. Similar figures were reported in Siberian hub of Novosibirsk and Tomsk.