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A protest in Minsk against closer integration with Russia on December 29

MINSK -- Around 100 Belarusians protested in downtown Minsk on December 29 against the prospect of deeper relations with Russia, the fifth such demonstration in the past month.

The protesters held a noontime march from October Square to Independence Square and formed a human chain near the main post office.

Uniformed police were deployed but did not intervene against the demonstrators.

A previous demonstration in December saw multiple arrests.

The gathering, in subfreezing temperatures, appeared to attract slightly fewer participants than the previous demonstrations, one of which attracted upward of 1,000 people.

The unsanctioned rallies were prompted by a fresh round of talks early this month between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that coincided with the 20th anniversary of a 1999 union treaty that was supposed to create a unified state.

The talks hit a snag that Lukashenka explained by saying he was merely seeking "equal terms" in mutual relations.

Minsk is heavily reliant on Moscow for cheap oil and billions in annual subsidies to prop up its Soviet-era economy.

Moscow has pressured Minsk to accelerate military and economic integration.

There have been signs that Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its subsequent support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine spooked Lukashenka and spurred his government to scale back its dependence on Russia.

Nafosat Olloshukurova

An Uzbek blogger who was placed under involuntary psychiatric care nearly three months ago after extensively covering alleged corruption and abuse among politicians has been released, according to a family member and local rights activists.

Writing under the name Shabnam Olloshkurova, Nafosat Olloshukurova's Facebook page had more than 4,000 followers when she was put under administrative arrest in September for alleged violations including petty hooliganism and participating in unauthorized assemblies.

She had reportedly been documenting a march by a journalist and poet to petition authorities to drop a case against him.

Days after she began serving her sentence, a court in the western Khorezm region ordered that Olloshukurova be placed in a regional psychiatric center, the blogger’s mother and news reports said at the time.

Olloshkurova was then kept incommunicado for weeks, her mother said.

On December 28, her father told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Olloshukurova had been released and had left Khorezm for the capital, Tashkent.

The head of the Tashkent-based Ezgulik human rights group, Abdurakhman Tashanov, said a commission had determined that there was no need to continue Ollashukurova's neuropsychiatric treatment.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged her release in October, saying, "If Uzbekistan wants the world to believe it is serious about reforms, it should not resort to the use of totalitarian practices like forced confinement of journalists in a psychiatric ward.”

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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