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Russian parliament passes amnesty law that may help Pussy Riot, Arctic 30

Russia's State Duma has approved an amnesty that may prompt the freeing of two jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot and 30 detained Greenpeace activists. The vote in favor was unanimous.

The Russian parliament, or Duma, voted 446-0 in favor of the amnesty bill, which includes first-time offenders, minors and women with small children among the beneficiaries.

The move to introduce the law is widely seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to placate criticism of its human rights record ahead of the

Winter Olympics in Sochi

next year.

The amnesty is likely to lead to the release from jail of two members of the Russian punk band

Pussy Riot

. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyoknina are serving two-year sentences for performing a political protest song in a Moscow church and are currently due to be released in March.

Both are mothers of small children.

The environmental organization Greenpeace has said the amnesty will mean that charges of hooliganism - carrying sentences of up to seven years - will "almost certainly" be dropped against 30 members of a Greenpeace ship arrested in September for protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic Sea.

It said the 26 non-Russians among them will be free to return home as soon as they get Russian exit visas.

How many people will benefit from the amnesty remains unclear. Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said last week that up to 22,000 prisoners could be freed. However, a senior Duma member, Pavel Krasheninnikov, put the number at about 10,000 on Tuesday.

The amnesty, which was submitted by President Vladimir Putin to mark the 20-year anniversary of the Russian constituion earlier this month, excludes many crimes, including embezzlement. It will thus not affect former oil tycoon and Putin critic

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

, who is serving an 11-year sentence partly on embezzlement charges, or opposition leader

Alexei Navalny

, who was given a suspended five-year sentence for embezzlement this summer.

tj/ph (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)

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