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Pussy Riot attends charity concert

Freed Pussy Riot members are guests of honour at Amnesty International concert to raise human rights awareness.

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Feted by Madonna and cheered by thousands, Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot defied President Vladimir Putin on the eve of the Sochi Olympics at a star-studded New York concert.

The performance highlighted soaring US-Russia tensions, which deteriorated when Moscow granted asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in 2013.

American pop icon Madonna hailed the courage and fearlessness of punk heroines Maria Alyokhina, 25, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, who were released from prison last December.

Maria Alyokhina, left, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot onstage at the Amnesty International Concert in New York.

Maria Alyokhina, left, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot onstage at the Amnesty International Concert in New York. Photo: Getty Images

Madonna said she was threatened with death after supporting them at a concert in Moscow during their trial in August 2012 and accused of by Russian authorities of propagating homosexual behaviour.

"It's time for the rest of the world to be as brave as Pussy Riot and to stand up against people like President Putin and other leaders, and other organisations that do not respect human rights and perpetuate discrimination and injustice," Madonna said.

"It is my privilege and my honour, ladies and gentlemen, to introduce Masha and Nadya from Pussy Riot," she shouted over cat calls as the ecstatic Barclays Centre in Brooklyn went wild.

Wearing black blazers, ankle boots and white tunics with black crucifixes emblazoned on the front, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova delivered a furious and emotional rebuke of the Putin regime.

"We will not forgive and we will not forget what the regime is doing to our fellow citizens," Tolokonnikova told the crowd.

"We demand a Russia that is free."

The pair thanked Madonna and said they were "overjoyed" by her support.

The duo were sentenced to 21 months in jail for hooliganism after performing a stunt inside a Moscow cathedral.

Although the stunt was unpopular among ordinary Russians, their trial and sentence turned them into dissident stars in the West.

They were released two months early in December as part of a pre-Sochi amnesty. But they have vowed no let up in their campaign against Putin's crackdown on civil liberties.

Organised by Amnesty International, Wednesday's concert whipped up a crowd of thousands crammed into one of New York's largest music and sporting venues with a maximum capacity of 18,000.

Blondie, fronted by Debbie Harry, brought the house down with their hits Call Me and One Way or Another.

US pop and rock band Imagine Dragons, Flaming Lips, Cake, The Fray and Cold War Kids fired up the crowd who danced and cheered form their seats.

American actor Susan Sarandon introduced the concert and there were pre-taped messages from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Sting.

The Sochi Winter Olympics have opened up a new front of distrust between the US and Russia, as well as tensions over security preparations amid fears the Games could be attacked by extremists.

They are the first Olympics held in Russia since the US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Relations reached a nadir in 2013 after Moscow gave asylum to Snowden and President Barack Obama scrapped a planned visit.

Moscow also reacted angrily to US charges in December against 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their wives for fraud.

Amnesty says that Pussy Riot represent a young generation of Russians standing up to repressive laws introduced under Putin.

AFP