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Belarus activist jailed for cuddly toys protest

An opposition activist has been jailed for 10 days in Belarus for organising a protest involving cuddly toys.

The furry teddy bears and rabbits were lined up on a pavement in central Minsk, holding tiny placards which bore slogans such as "Where is the freedom of the press?" and "Toys against lawlessness!" Police arrived and swiftly removed them.

Under a recently enacted law, it is illegal for more than three people to gather together in public without permission, and the toy protests were presumably meant as a cheeky way to circumvent this rule.

Pavel Vinogradov, an opposition campaigner, was jailed yesterday for his alleged role in the demonstration. He insisted he had only been looking at the toys and was not the organiser, and announced a hunger strike in protest at the decision to jail him.

Belarusian media reported that another activist was arrested in the courtroom as he tried to pass a bag of food and supplies to Mr Vinogradov after his sentencing.

Some of the slogans on the toys' placards made direct reference to Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994 and has been dubbed "the last dictator in Europe". He crushed protests against his re-election in December 2010 in a vote that Western observers said was rigged.

Hundreds of demonstrators and several opposition candidates were arrested and jailed in the aftermath.

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Mr Vinogradov was given a four-year term for participating in mass unrest, and was freed in September.

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