- Associated Press - Thursday, April 19, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) - Police arrested more than 20 demonstrators Thursday as a Moscow court considered extending the detention of three female punk rockers arrested after a surprise protest performance against Vladimir Putin.

Five members of the band Pussy Riot _ wearing brightly colored homemade ski masks and miniskirts _ briefly seized the pulpit of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral _ the country’s main Orthodox church _ in February and chanted “Mother Mary, drive Putin away” two weeks before Russia’s presidential vote.

Putin, the prime minister, won a third presidential term in March’s election despite a wave of massive protests against his rule.

The three women, Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, face up to seven years in jail on charges of hooliganism. The Tagansky district court is considering whether to keep them in custody on a police request pending the probe.

Supporters of the band, including prominent artists, musicians and activists, organized a protest festival outside the court. More than 100 people, including journalists, gathered in the courtyard, some carrying balloons and posters. They chanted “Freedom!” when the women were taken into the court.

Orthodox activists also rallied, provoking Pussy Riot supporters and throwing eggs at Tolokonnikova’s husband.

The Russian Orthodox Church says the women deserve to be prosecuted for their “blasphemous” performance at the cathedral, although thousands of believers have signed a petition urging the church to forgive the band.

Attorneys for the arrested band members have argued the women should be released because they have young children

Pussy Riot gained notoriety in January for performing a song addressed to Putin from a spot on Red Square. Videos of the performance became an instant Internet hit.

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