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Greenpeace plans global vigils over activists held in Russia

A handout picture taken on October 3, 2013, and released by Greenpeace International shows a crew member of the Dutch-flagged Greenpeace protest ship Arctic Sunrise, Jonathan Beauchamp from New Zealand,in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. AFP PHOTO / GREENPEACE / DMITRI SHAROMOV

MOSCOW: Greenpeace supporters planned to hold vigils and marches across 47 countries Saturday in support of 30 activists arrested and jailed by Russia for staging an open-sea protest against Arctic oil drilling.

The global environmental lobby group's icebreaker Arctic Sunrise was impounded by Russian authorities last month after it approached the world's first oil rig in the pristine Barents Sea.

A court in Russia's northwestern region of Murmansk has since charged all crew members -- who come from 18 countries including Britain and the United States -- with piracy.

They have been ordered held in detention for two months pending an investigation and face jail terms of 10 to 15 years.

The incident has prompted a behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort to secure the activists' release despite Russia's tough stance.

The Arctic Sunrise was sailing under a Dutch flag and the Netherlands started legal action on Friday aimed at quickly freeing the crew.

"The Netherlands... today started an arbitration process on the basis of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea," Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a letter to parliament.

But Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov fired back on Saturday that the Netherlands had been repeatedly warned about the dangers of the ship's actions.

"Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise is a pure provocation," Meshkov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also expressed concern about her country's crew member during talks with another Russian deputy foreign minister on the sidelines of a regional forum in Bali.

A spokesperson for New Zealand's ministry of foreign affairs and trade told AFP by e-mail that British officials visited the detainees on Friday and advised that they were in good spirits.

The global day of solidarity was due to kick off in New Zealand and stretch across Russia and Western Europe before concluding outside Moscow's science and culture centre in Washington.

Greenpeace said hundreds were expected to gather at Hong Kong's main harbour to form a human banner reading "Free the Arctic 30".

Activists in Moscow were planning a vigil outside the iconic Gorky Park during which they were to hold up posters with photographs of the detainees.

Supporters were asked to come together outside former apartheid detention centres in South Africa, while in Senegal fisherman who last year welcomed the Arctic Sunrise on its mission to preserve their waters, were due to take to their boats in a mass show of support.

Greenpeace sympathisers in the Hague promised to march to the International Court of Justice demanding a swift global response.

And still more actions were planned for London and Madrid as well as Paris and a dozen other cities across France.

Demonstrations in Germany were expected across 48 cities and focused on Hamburg and Berlin.

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