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Criminal charges dropped against 29 of the 'Arctic 30,' Greenpeace says

Environmental group Greenpeace says Russia has formally dropped criminal charges against 29 out of 30 activists arrested during an Arctic protest action. The move follows the announcement of an amnesty by the Kremlin.

Twenty-nine of the 30 activists, dubbed the "Arctic 30," had criminal charges against them dropped on Christmas Day, the group said.

One of the activists, Cristian d'Alessandro of Italy, had failed to have his case closed owing to the lack of an interpreter, and would have to appear again before Russia's Investigative Committe in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Greenpeace spokeswoman Violetta Ryabko said Wednesday.

"This is the day we've been waiting for since our ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago," Peter Willcox, the captain of the ship used in the protest, the Arctic Sunrise, said in a statement.

"I'm pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all," he added.

The non-Russian activists, with the exception of d'Alessandro for the time being, are free to leave Russia and travel home to their families once they obtain exit visas.

Hooliganism charges

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists were arrested by Russian authorities in September after some of them

climbed onto an oil rig in the Pechora Sea to protest against Arctic drilling.

They were charged with hooliganism, which under Russian law can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Their detention

had drawn heavy criticism

from around the world.

The dropping of charges against the group comes as part of an

amnesty passed unanimously last week by the Russian parliament,

the Duma, which also saw two members of the punk band Pussy Riot set free before their sentence was up.

The musicians had been convicted for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.

Putin last week also separately

pardoned former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The amnesties and pardons are being widely interpreted as efforts to improve Russia's image ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February, whose reputation has been tarnished in advance by the introduction of a Russian law against "gay propaganda" that has been widely condemned by the international community.

tj/msh (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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