Greenpeace has condemned the Russian action, saying its activists were taking part in a peaceful protest against the “slow but unrelenting destruction of the Arctic.” The group has called on supporters around the world to stage candlelight vigils Saturday, holding signs saying “Free the Arctic 30,” to highlight the plight of those detained. 2012: Russia’s big Arctic oil ambitions All 30 people aboard the ship, including 28 activists and two freelance journalists from at least 18 countries, were charged last week with piracy. Meanwhile, the government in the Netherlands — where the Arctic Sunrise is registered — wrote to the Dutch parliament Friday to say it has launched legal action aimed at freeing the 30 under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. “With regard to its detention of the ship, Russia invokes its authority to ensure safety at sea in the vicinity of the oil platform,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote. “The Netherlands agrees on the importance of safety at sea, but in this case we contest the lawfulness of detaining the ship and its crew.” The “arbitral procedure” it has filed focuses “on what the Netherlands views as the unlawfulness of boarding and detaining the ship and on our demand for the release of the ship and its crew,” it said. “Under this procedure the Netherlands can in two weeks, if insufficient progress has been made, request the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to prescribe provisional measures for the release of the ship and its crew.” This would not interfere with Russia’s ability to pursue criminal proceedings against the 30 people, Timmermans said. Two of those detained are Dutch nationals, both of whom are receiving consular assistance. The defendants also include Americans Peter Wilcox, who is the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, and Dmitry Litvinov, who Greenpeace says also holds Swedish citizenship. Greenpeace ship captain defies orders, Russians resort to towing The other detainees are from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Britain, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, the United States and Sweden, the group said. None of those charged last week pleaded guilty, Russia’s Investigative Committee said. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Lawyers acting on Greenpeace’s behalf have filed appeals in court seeking the defendants’ release, Greenpeace said Thursday.
Russia receives Sochi Games flame
In London up to 700 people demonstrated outside the Russian Embassy with six Britons among those arrested by Russia. Actor Jude Law, who knows one of the arrested Britons through his children’s school, was among the protesters calling for Russia to release the detainees and condemning the charges of piracy as “ludicrous”. “They go into these situations often expecting arrest and the arrests draw more attention which is a positive but … the possibility of a 15-year prison stretch is beyond reason,” Law told the BBC. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has raised the case with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Officials said Britain’s concerns were based on “consular” issues of welfare. The Dutch government contests the “unlawful manner” in which the ship was intercepted and is seeking the release of all its passengers, who include 28 activists and two freelance journalists. Greenpeace says the activists had been engaged in a peaceful protest in international waters to highlight the environmental risks posed by drilling in Arctic waters. The group says Russian officials boarded its icebreaker and detained activists at gunpoint after the group piloted motorboats toward an exploration vessel working for Russia’s top oil producer, the state-controlled Rosneft, and global major ExxonMobil. Two activists also scaled the side of the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya platform, actions Russia’s Foreign Ministry said threatened security. As well as the Dutch and British citizens, the group includes four Russians, two Argentines, two Canadians, two New Zealanders, a man with Swedish and U.S. citizenship and one national each from the United States, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.
As he lit the golden cauldron encircled by priestesses in long, cream-coloured, pleated robes, the crowd erupted in cheers of “Russia! Russia!” “We are especially emotional,” Hellenic Olympic Committee head Spyros Capralos said. “The flame, for us Greeks, is a piece of our country, a part of our history and a tight bond to our ancestors”. The flame will be flown in special safety lanterns from Athens to Moscow on Sunday and it will then begin the longest torch relay in the history of the Winter Games from the Red Square. It will travel more than 65,000 km, looping around Russia’s 83 regions on foot, in sleighs, hot air balloons and even on a trip to space, as Russia prepares to showcase its modern post-Soviet face. More than 90 percent of the Russian population will be within one hour of the flame before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron takes place at the stadium at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 7. “For me it is a great honour, responsibility and pleasure to be here tonight, on the land that gave birth to the European civilization and presented the world with the Olympic Games,” Kozak said. “On this momentous day I am telling you with certainty that our country … will succeed in fulfilling its commitment to the Olympic movement.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to deliver a “brilliant” Games to show how far Russia has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But Russia has come under mounting international criticism over a new anti-gay propaganda law which critics believe is repressive and preparations for the Games will not be plain sailing for the Russian hosts. Earlier in the day, a group of Greek gay activists raised the rainbow flag outside Greece’s Acropolis museum in Athens.