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World support grows for Pussy Riot on last trial day

As the full hearings in the controversial trial went into a second week, the state prosecutor said the young women's crime was so severe they needed to be isolated from society. AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA

MOSCOW: Members of the all-girl band Pussy Riot who were charged with hooliganism for staging a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin were due Wednesday to deliver final statements on the last day of their trial.

The controversial hearings raced toward a verdict with prosecutors seeking a three-year sentence and global calls mounting among stage stars and top Western officials to win the young women's release.

U.S. pop icon Madonna interrupted her packed concert in Moscow on Tuesday to tell the cheering crowd that she was praying for the band members' freedom while Yoko Ono tweeted a message to Putin telling him he was making a mistake.

"Mr Putin you are a wise man & dont need to fight with musicians & their friends," the artist and widow of John Lennon wrote on her Twitter account.

The magazine Der Spiegel meanwhile reported that 121 deputies from Germany's Bundestag legislature had sent Moscow a letter condemening the five months the women have already spent in pre-trial detention as "draconian".

Lead singer Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her mates Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina pulled on knitted balaclavas and burst into the Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21 to ask the Virgin Mary in a song to oust the veteran Russian strongman.

Putin was elected president by a thumping margin two weeks later and the authorities have since launched criminal probes against top leaders of the street protests that proceeded his return in Moscow in the winter months.

While dismissing the performance as "nothing good", Putin has nevertheless said he hoped the band members would not be "judged too severely" for their stunt.

The state prosecutor on Tuesday sought three years in a penal colony for the young women after arguing that "their correction is only possible in conditions of isolation from society.

But a source close to the Kremlin was quoted as saying on Wednesday that the court might pass a lighter sentence while still issuing a guilty verdict on the hooliganism motivated by religious hatred charge.

"Otherwise there would still be a question over why they were even detained," a parliament source close to Putin's administration told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

"The sentence will probably account for time served and possibly slightly exceed it. It would be foolish to release the Pussy Riot women right then and there in court," the source said.

The judge was expected to deliver her verdict and sentence by the end of the week.

 

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