Thousands of demonstrators rallied in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's hometown of St Petersburg today, demanding his resignation before a presidential vote next week he is all but certain to win.

The state-authorised rally, led by anti-corruption blogger and opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, attracted around 3,500 people carrying balloons and wearing the white ribbons that have become the mark of the fledgling opposition movement.

Victory in next week's poll would extend Putin's 12-year rule by at least another six years.

"Is it time for new revolution? Yes or no? We want a peaceful revolution ... These thieves are afraid of our peaceful revolution," Mr Navalny told a cheering crowd in Russia's second city.

Tens of thousands have turned out for opposition protests around the country since a 4 December parliamentary election in which Mr Putin's United Russia party won a slim majority, alleging electoral fraud and calling for him to quit.

The demonstrations are by far the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, and have been led by an emerging educated middle class frustrated by the lack of alternatives to Mr Putin.

The former KGB officer is the overwhelming favourite to win the presidential election on 4 March.

The St Petersburg protest featured posters with slogans such as "Putin you're fired", "free political prisoners" and "we want free elections".

"The strategy is very simple. Vote for anyone against Putin ... These are not elections ... This is the reappointment of Putin, one more step towards being a Tsar," Mr Navalny told reporters ahead of the march.