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US and Russian envoys in Pussy Riot spat

Two ambassadors to UN exchange jibes over Russian punk protest band after US envoy's meeting with two of its members.

Last updated: 06 Feb 2014 05:22
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Two members of the band met with US Ambassador to the UN to discuss human rights in Russia [Reuters]

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and her Russian counterpart Vialy Churkin have exchanged jibes over the Russian protests punk band Pussy Riot, two of whom were recently freed from prison.

Power on Wednesday discussed "disturbing" trends in Russia with the band, prompting Moscow's UN envoy to ask if she was joining the group when asked about the half-hour meeting with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

"She has not joined the band? I would expect her to invite them to perform at the National Cathedral in Washington," he said. "Maybe they could arrange a world tour for them, you know," Churkin said.

"St Peter's Cathedral in Rome, then maybe in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, ending up with a gala concert at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. So if Ambassador Power fell short I would be disappointed."

Power struck back at Churkin on Twitter on Wednesday night, saying she would be honoured to go on tour with Pussy Riot because they speak up and stand up for human rights, asking her Russian counterpart: "Will you join us?"

"I can't sing, but if Pussy Riot will have me, Ambassador Churkin, I say our first concert is for Russia's political prisoners," Power wrote, suggesting that performance should be at Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina prison.

Power and the two band members discussed Russian "government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and pressuring groups that advocate for fundamental human rights and basic government accountability," Power's deputy spokesman Kurtis Cooper said.

The meeting took place ahead of an Amnesty International Bringing Human Rights Home concert where the duo spoke to the audience.

Global outcry

The meeting took place at the US mission to the UN.

Power tweeted that she met "some brave 'troublemakers'" who discussed their time in jail.

"I asked Pussy Riot if they were afraid of prison. Response: No. In prison we could see the terrible conditions. It's human rights fieldwork," Power added.

Power was well known for her own human rights activism before she joined the first administration of US President Barack Obama after his 2008 election.

The case of Pussy Riot sparked a global outcry. In 2012 Tolokonnikova, 24, and Alyokhina, 25, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after storming Moscow's biggest Orthodox cathedral and beseeching the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

After nearly two years behind bars, Putin granted the pair amnesty in December.

Russia's leadership has not attempted to hide its annoyance when Washington criticises Moscow for its human rights record.

The Russian Federation has in turn accused the US of rights abuses at home.

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