Court keeps anti-Putin punk rocker in jail

The once-unheralded Pussy Riot has turned into a symbol of the nascent protest movement against Putin.

Moscow: A Moscow court on Thursday extended by a month the pretrial detention of a young member of a feminist punk band whose stunt performance in Russia`s main cathedral has drawn fury from the Church.

The once-unheralded Pussy Riot -- its cast clad in neon balaclavas and bright tights -- has turned into a symbol of the nascent protest movement against the ex-KGB agent`s May return for a third presidential term.

Three detained members of the group each face seven years if convicted in a case that has drawn the ire of Western right groups and renewed concerns about the close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state.

"It was a performance directed against a merger of state and church," group member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said from inside the metal cage used in Russian trials before the court extended her jail stay though June 24.

A ruling on the other two detained members was due later on Tuesday but both also expected to be kept in remand prison.

"I basically expected this," Tolokonnikova remarked as she was being led out of the packed court room.

Dozens of Pussy Riot fans squared off outside court against policemen and a few Russian Orthodox Church supporters who Sunday plan to join a "cleansing prayer" in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral where the band sang in February.

An AFP reporter saw police detain about a 15 people who threw smoke bombs or began chanting or singing in support of the band.

The three members for their part were swarmed by dozens of photographers as they stepped out of their white police van and waved meekly to the crowd like emerging movie stars.

"It is not in the authorities` interest to do this," a defence attorney told reporters before the hearing. "It seriously hurts the image of our Russian authorities.
"There are all the grounds necessary to set them free."

The group`s "Punk Prayer" song included lyrics calling for the Virgin Mary to "drive out Putin" and "become a feminist".

Estate agent and Church supporter Alexender Orlov said the group displayed a growing disrespect for the country`s believers.

"We have complete discrimination against the Orthodox faith. People who insult our faith and our people go unpunished... I came to say that I am against what happened," he said.

Orlov said he thought the group`s performance was a "vile insult".


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