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Freed Pussy Riot pair ramp up Putin protests

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova urges Olympics boycott and bandmate Maria Alekhina says release was a PR stunt.

Last updated: 24 Dec 2013 05:52
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The final member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot to be freed from jail has called for an EU boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova made the call after being freed from her Siberian jail on Monday, hours after fellow band member Maria Alekhina was released under an amnesty measure that the pair dismissed as a publicity stunt.

Tolokonnikova said the EU should take a stand against human rights abuses in Russia.

"I'm calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games," she said.

"Releasing people just a few months before their term expires is a cosmetic measure."

The amnesty was part of a wide measure passed last week by the parliament allowing the release of thousands of inmates. It led to President Vladimir Putin's pardoning last week of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and political rival.

Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, who were due for release in March, qualified for amnesty because they have small children.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina  plan to continue their protests against Putin and work in human rights.

US gay message

Alyokhina echoed critics who said the amnesty was far too narrow and not an act of mercy but a political ploy by Putin.

"I do not think it is a humanitarian act, I think it is a PR stunt," she said in comments to the Russian Internet and TV channel Dozhd.

"My attitude to the president has not changed."

Yekaterina Samutsevich, another member of Pussy Riot, was previously released on a suspended sentence.

The trio was found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison after a performance at Moscow's main cathedral in March 2012. They said their protest was meant to highlight their concern about increasingly close ties between the state and the church.

There has been an international outcry over Russia's human rights record, including a law passed this year that bans so-called gay propaganda among minors, which gay groups in Russia and abroad say feeds hostility towards gay people in the country.

US President Barack Obama made clear on Friday that his inclusion of three openly gay athletes in the official US delegation to the Winter Olympics was intended to send a pointed message to Russia.

Former tennis star Billie Jean King, Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano and Olympic ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow were among a group of prominent Americans named to represent the United States at the Games' ceremonies.

The White House also announced last week that neither the president, his wife, Michelle Obama, nor vice-president Joe Biden would travel to Sochi. The decision was widely viewed as a snub from a US administration whose relations with Russia have been strained over a string of diplomatic disputes.

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