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Sochi tension: Pussy Riot members briefly detained

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm •  Published: February 18, 2014
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Russian punk group Pussy Riot burst onto the Olympic scene Tuesday when two of its members were picked up by police in host city Sochi — and then ran away defiant down a rain-soaked street a few hours later, shouting and wearing their trademark garish balaclavas.

The police questioning of Russia's most recognizable punk rockers, along with detentions of gay rights and other activists in recent days, brought political tensions to the fore at Vladimir Putin's showcase Winter Olympics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, along with seven others, were held by police near Sochi's ferry terminal, a popular area for fans celebrating the Olympics. Police said they were questioned in connection with a theft at the hotel where they were staying. No charges were filed.

"Putin will teach you how to love the motherland!" the women chanted on leaving the police station, their fists in the air and blue, pink and orange ski masks concealing their faces.

Pussy Riot gained international attention in 2012 after barging into Moscow's main cathedral and performing a "punk prayer" in which they entreated the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, who was on the verge of returning to the Russian presidency for a third term.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were sentenced to two years in prison, but were released in December under an amnesty bill seen as a Kremlin effort to assuage critics of its human rights record before the Olympics. Both women called for the boycott of the Sochi Games.

Tolokonnikova said Tuesday's detention followed three days of police harassment. She also said the two band members were detained for several hours the previous two days.

"We members of Pussy Riot have been here since late Sunday and we were constantly detained since then," Tolokonnikova said after her release. "We are constantly surrounded by people, not you journalists, but people who are shadowing us, following our every move and looking for any excuse to detain us."

Pussy Riot, a performance-art collective involving a loose membership of feminists who edit their actions into music videos, has become an international flashpoint for those who contend Putin's government has exceeded its authority in dealing with an array of issues, notably human and gay rights.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, and other people who were detained on Tuesday insisted that Pussy Riot were not protesting or demonstrating when they were taken off the street. But Tolokonnikova said the band is in Sochi with "the goal of staging a Pussy Riot protest."

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