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Conn. vigil urges freedom for Greenpeace crew

NORWALK, Conn.— Family and friends are showing support for a Norwalk man jailed in Russia after a protest last month near an oil platform in the Arctic.

A group gathered in a park in Norwalk on Saturday for a candlelight vigil for Peter Willcox, captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise that was seized by the Russian government. Joined by elected officials, they demanded his release.

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Willcox, who grew up in South Norwalk, and the rest of his crew of 30 have been held since. They were protesting near a Gazprom-owned oil rig Sept. 18.

His wife, Maggy Willcox, said she hopes the Russians will make a deal, fining Greenpeace, and keep the ship. The charge has been reduced from piracy to criminal hooliganism, she said. It carries a seven-year maximum sentence.

Dubbed the ‘‘Arctic 30,’’ pictures of each of the jailed Greenpeace members were put on the backstop of a baseball field for the candlelight vigil.

Mayor Richard Moccia of Norwalk said he had an e-mail from the mayor of Gdansk, Poland, asking him to sign a letter of protest to Russian officials.

‘‘We’re used to freedom of expression in this country and freedom of protest,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, other countries do not understand that.’’

US Senator Richard Blumenthal said he has been meeting with US and foreign officials in an effort to gain the release of Willcox.

‘‘You can agree or disagree with Peter Willcox, but there is no question that he should be free as we are today,’’ he said.

Willcox’s stepmother, Joan Willcox, said that she had spoken to her son a few days ago and informed him of plans for the candlelight vigil.

‘‘He said, ‘Oh, thank you very much,’ ’’ she told The Hour of Norwalk. ‘‘He sounded very pleased by it.’’

An international court has scheduled a hearing next month on the Netherlands’ bid to force Russia to free the ship and the Greeepeace activists.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in Hamburg, Germany, has said that a public hearing is scheduled on Nov. 6.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of the headline for this story misidentified the location of a vigil held for the captain of a Greenpeace ship seized by the Russian government. It was in Norwalk, Conn.

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