U2 deliver subtle dig to Medvedev in Moscow

When a huge rock band with strong political interests played in Russia for the first time, the results were never likely to be sedate.

But as it turned out, the most dramatic moments at U2's debut show in Moscow were not on stage but off it. Although Bono, who has also visited President Dmitry Medvedev this week, did invite a prominent Kremlin critic onstage, the results were strictly musical, with no mention of Russian human rights abuses. Meanwhile, activists complained of police harassment outside the stadium, and five volunteers from Amnesty International were arrested for distributing leaflets.

The presence of the outspoken Russian rock star Yuri Shevchuk on stage was nonetheless interpreted yesterday as an implicit rebuke to the regime. After Bono brought him on stage for an encore at Wednesday night's concert in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, the pair sang a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", to a crowd of more than 50,000 people.

Mr Shevchuk has in recent months become a visible critic of the Russian political system, after confronting the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on television in a heated exchange about political freedoms. But he did not make any political statements at the U2 concert. With the exception of inviting Mr Shevchuk onto the stage, Bono also seemed keen to avoid referencing domestic Russian issues during the concert, focusing his monologues on issues in Burma and Africa.

In a press conference before the concert, he played to patriotic sentiments, saying, "We pretend that we are a great rock group, but as long as we had not played in Russia, that is not true". He did, however, insert a verse of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up" into the rendition of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" during the concert, perhaps an entreaty to Russians to push for more freedoms.

That question was made particularly acute when five activists from Amnesty International were arrested for handing out leaflets calling for investigations into the murders of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the Chechen rights activist Natalya Estemirova. Police said they did not have permission to hand out the fliers, and later released the activists.

Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty's Moscow office, said that U2's management had assured them that all the necessary permits were in order. There were also reports that police forced activists from the ONE Campaign against Aids and U2's own charity fund out of the stadium, while Greenpeace said tents it had set up had to be taken down.

The huge crowd in the stadium included the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and Chelsea FC's owner Roman Abramovich. The day before the concert, Bono met Mr Medvedev in his summer residence outside Sochi, on the Russian Black Sea coast. Bono joked that the biggest difference between the two men was Mr Medvedev's taste for the music of Deep Purple. It is not known whether they discussed Russian domestic issues.

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