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In Belarus, one-armed man arrested for clapping

The crackdown in Belarus grew more indiscriminate this week. Among the 400 arrested: a one-armed man charged with taking part in the clapping protests and mute person accused of shouting antigovernment slogans.

Belarusian plainclothes policemen block a central street to protect it from an opposition action 'Revolution via social network' in Minsk, Belarus, July 7. The center of Minsk is teeming with police preparing for the next in a series of weekly demonstrations calling for the ouster of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Sergei Grits/AP

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The sound of one hand clapping may be one of those proverbial mysteries, but a man was arrested and seriously punished in Minsk this week for allegedly doing it.

It's a little whiff of absurdity amid a wave of unrelentingly grim news from Belarus, where "Europe's last dictator" Alexander Lukashenko is digging in against growing public protests over a collapsing economy that's gutted living standards and left hundreds of thousands out of work since January in the little post-Soviet country of 10 million.

In order to evade tough regulations on public rallies, protesters eschew placards and shouted slogans, and merely clap their hands to display their anger at Mr. Lukashenko's policies. Since the weekly flash mob protests began last month, more than 1,700 people have been arrested – 400 this week alone. Most of them were fined heavily or jailed for up to 15 days on police court testimony that they were expressing a political opinion by clapping their hands in public.

But Konstantin Kaplin, an unemployed man from the western town of Grodno, says he was convicted this week of applauding in public and fined the equivalent of $200, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence: He is officially registered as a disabled person and has only one arm.

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