* Protests and petitions around world before verdict
* Pussy Riot detainees cast as victims of oppression
* Bare-breasted stunt in Kiev, balaclavas in Bulgaria
* Madonna and McCartney among stars getting involved
By Olzhas Auyezov and Andrea Burzynski
KIEV/NEW YORK, Aug 17 With public readings,
petitions and practical stunts, thousands of people around the
world have voiced support for members of Russian feminist punk
band Pussy Riot, on trial for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in
Inside Russia, many people were offended when the three
women stormed the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral
in February wearing bright-coloured masks and clothes to hold a
"punk prayer" to get rid of President Vladimir Putin.
Sensitivity inside the overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian
country is not shared overseas, however, where media coverage of
the trial ahead of Friday's verdict has often cast the women as
victims of an oppressive state led by an authoritarian leader.
Western broadcasters and newspapers have featured images of
the detainees - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Yekaterina
Samutsevich, 30 and Maria Alyokhina, 24 - sitting in a glass box
inside the Moscow courtroom.
Public sympathy has grown as the trial reached its climax,
with events held in New York, London, Kiev, Sofia and beyond
aimed at putting pressure on the Russian government and judicial
system to set the women free.
Major music stars have also come out in support, led by
Madonna, who performed in Moscow recently with "PUSSY RIOT"
painted on her back, while Paul McCartney who wrote a letter
calling on the authorities to show clemency.
Arguably the most brazen show of solidarity was in Kiev on
Friday, where a topless female rights activist took a chainsaw
to a large cross bearing the figure of Christ in the centre of
"No business, not even one as successful as the church, has
the right to attack women's rights," activist Inna Shevchenko
said after cutting down the cross.
Shevchenko, a member of Ukrainian group Femen, which
regularly stages bare-breasted shock performances, had "Free
Riot" written across her chest. There were no police at the
In the Bulgarian capital Sofia, brightly coloured balaclavas
similar to those worn by Pussy Riot members were placed over the
heads of bronze statues at a Soviet Army monument, but were
NEW YORK READINGS
Across the Atlantic, a crowd of several hundred gathered at
the Ace Hotel in New York late on Thursday to hear actress Chloe
Sevigny, poet Eileen Myles and others read from letters, lyrics
and court statements by the three detained women.
Mary O'Malley, a 24-year-old New Yorker who works in public
relations, said she had come on a whim with friends, but
appreciated the cause.
"I think it's cool that these girls my age are in the
spotlight and shaking things up right now," she said.
Myles, who performed several of the night's readings, was
not optimistic about the outcome of the trial.
"I feel a bit negative, though I don't know if that will be
the case," she said. "It would be amazing ... if the right thing
could be done, but it seems like a violation of the system that
has been described. So I think it's unlikely."
The event was organised by the Free Pussy Riot! movement,
which has the backing of Amnesty International and is putting on
a series of events on Friday from San Francisco to Sydney in
support of the detainees.
Amnesty has also been behind a series of petitions, and
David Diaz, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said a
list of 12,000 names was handed to the Russian embassy in London
this week and more than 70,000 in Washington.
He also said that around 45,000 people had signed up in
support of Pussy Riot on the website of Russian radio station
Ekho Moskvy, showing the women also enjoyed significant support
Several Russian cultural figures have backed them, but the
response from top musicians has been muted, possibly because
they are wary of falling out with Putin and jeopardising their
main source of income - high-paying concerts for the super-rich.
"They are part of Putin's system and scared to leave it,"
said Vasily Shumov, who compiled an online collection of songs
this year in support of Putin's opponents.