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Russia charges 16 more in Greenpeace protest

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MOSCOW -- An additional 16 people were charged by Russia with piracy Thursday for their role in a foiled Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic, a Russian television network reported.

Among the new defendants are Greenpeace activists, crew members of the environmental organization's Arctic Sunrise icebreaker and Moscow-based freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, Rossiya-24 reported. They join 14 others who were charged with piracy the day before.

The 30 defendants, who are being held in the Russian Far East port of Murmansk, include nationals of 18 countries, including the United States and Russia. Sinyakov, who is Russian, was covering the protest on assignment for Lenta.ru, a popular Russian online publication.

All have been remanded to custody until Nov. 24 pending an investigation. If convicted, each defendant could face up to 15 years in prison.

Greenpeace International announced plans for a protest against the arrests, which it has characterized as an extreme overreaction. The activists were rebuffed on Sept. 18 while attempting to raise a protest banner on an oil drilling rig in Russia's exclusive economic zone in the Barents Sea. Their ship was seized by Russian authorities the next day.

“On Saturday [Oct. 5] tens of thousands of people will take part in an emergency global day of solidarity,” the organization announced on its website. “Peaceful events are planned in more than 80 cities in 45 countries across the world.”

Greenpeace lawyers have lodged formal appeals against the continued detention, the statement said.

Yevgeniya Belyakova, a coordinator of the Greenpeace Arctic program, criticized the piracy charges, which the organization has insisted are unwarranted since nothing was stolen.

“The charges pressed against our fellow activists have nothing to do with reality or common sense,” Belyakova said in an interview. “While doing our best to get them out of prison, we will continue our work to attract attention to the ecological problems of the Arctic.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said last week that the activists were “obviously not pirates,” spoke on Thursday about the importance of Arctic oil exploration for Russia, whose economy is dependent on energy revenue.

Putin called the region “very attractive” because of its mineral resources.

“We will follow this path of expanding our presence in the Arctic,” Putin said at a meeting with a group of his ruling party activists. “But, of course … we need to treat the nature of the Arctic with utmost cautiousness because it is very vulnerable. In this sense it is one of the most vulnerable parts of the planet.”

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sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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