Pussy Riot trio get two years' jail

Three members of the punk band Pussy Riot have each been sentenced to two years in prison on hooliganism charges following a trial that has drawn international outrage.

Today's sentence comes amid a wave of protests around the world in support of the feminist rockers.

The Moscow judge said in the verdict that the three band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and offended religious believers.

The three were arrested in March after a performance in Moscow's main cathedral calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new term as Russia's president two weeks later.

The judge said the trio committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred and offended religious believers.

The case has attracted international attention as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent. It also underlines the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity.

Protests timed to coincide with the verdict were planned in more than three dozen cities worldwide. Prosecutors asked for three-year sentences, down from the possible seven-year maximum and Mr Putin himself has said he hopes the sentencing is not "too severe".

Celebrities including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Bjork have called for them to be freed.

There was a heavy police presence around the court building in central Moscow, where hundreds of protesters and band supporters were gathering.

The case has damaged Russia's reputation abroad and stoked the resentment of opposition supporters who have turned out in a series of massive rallies since last winter.