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Businessmen Protest in Belarus

About 2,000 entrepreneurs and opposition activists in Belarus have marched through the streets of Minsk protesting a presidential decree limiting the hiring power of small businesses.

News reports from the Belarusian capital say protesters initially gathered in a square and marched towards the presidential palace. Police blocked their progress in several locations.

A delegation of the protesters met with government officials but their spokesman, Anatol Shumchanka, says the government refused to offer any concessions.

Reports say police detained a number of people, including Shumchanka and the leader of the liberal United Civil Party, Anatol Lyabedzka, in connection with the protest.

Reports say the businessmen object to President Alexander Lukashenko's decree that small business owners may only hire close relatives unless they register with the government as a larger firm, which are taxed at a higher level.

Businessmen launched a strike in January to protest the decree.

Meanwhile, a court in Minsk sentenced opposition activist Vyacheslau Siuchyk to 10 days in prison on charges of using foul language in public. Police detained him on the eve of the protest.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.