Moscow (AFP) - Russia and two of its ex-Soviet neighbours are set to impose a ban on certain types of lace panties, sparking public fury and even a lingerie-themed street protest.
Coming under a complete ban this summer in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are lace or net knickers that have a high synthetic content, due to a new hygiene rule.
The rule is set to come into force in the Russia-led customs union of the three countries and has prompted plenty of amusement and newspaper photographs of women's bottoms, but also fears over a return to Soviet-style regulation of everyday life.
"Lacy panties are heterosexual propaganda to adults," wrote Moskovsky Komsomolets daily, referring to a recent Russian law banning so-called gay propaganda to minors.
"Bureaucrats are poking into women's knickers," complained Express Gazeta tabloid.
"What? I'm emigrating," Russian pop star Viktoria Daineko wrote on Twitter. Other bloggers mockingly posted pictures of shapeless knee-length undergarments. "Coming soon to all girls in the country," one said.
Underwear retailers raised concerns that much of their sexier lingerie will fall under the ban, while other observers saw a return to Soviet-style arbitrary rules and lack of choice.
In Kazakhstan's former capital of Almaty, three women protested by putting lacy knickers on their heads and attempted to lay them at an independence monument last weekend.
"They have robbed the people so much that we can only give away the last thing we have," said one of the protesters, Zhanna Baitelova, a journalist at Assandi Times newspaper.
"Now they're even deciding what kind of underwear we should put on," she told AFP.
The protesters -- two journalists and an art critic -- were promptly arrested, found guilty of petty hooliganism and ordered to pay fines of around $100.
In Belarus, the leader of opposition party Belarussian People's Front, Alexei Yanukevich, also lashed out at the rule: "They are literally stripping us Belarussians down to our pants!" he said in a statement released by the party.
"First they'll put our women in pantaloons, then they'll put us in wadded jackets," one commentator who gave his name as Vasya wrote grimly on Belarussian independent news website Charter 97, referring to prison uniform.
But not everyone agreed, saying the ban had health benefits.
Svetlana Romanenko, chairwoman of the Consumers' League of Kazakhstan, told AFP: "We are talking here about almost 100-percent synthetic underwear and if it's really harmful to human health, then of course I think this will be better."
- Market worth four billion euros -
Last year Russian stores complained to the ministry of trade and industry that up to 90 percent of synthetic underwear could disappear from stores due to the ban, which sets minimum absorbency for garment material at six percent.
The InCity brand wrote an appeal saying that the most popular synthetic material in its panties has only three percent absorbency, asking Russia to intervene to change the wording, but this month it emerged that the ban would go ahead on July 1.
The Russian underwear market is worth around four billion euros, according to the Russian union of textiles and light industry. Around 60 percent of this is panties.
Russians prefer to buy imported underwear, which makes up 80 percent of sales.
Strongman Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko this month at a meeting with small business owners acknowledged fears that they will not be able to fulfil the Customs Unions rules.
"I don't want to put a noose on the neck of the Belarussian people because of the Customs Union," Lukashenko said.
In a store for the Milavitsa brand, based in Belarus, an assistant told AFP: "Up to 90 percent of our range is underwear made of synthetics. But the panties have a cotton insert. We're hoping that they won't be banned."