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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

The Russian Supreme Court has upheld its decision to reject an appeal by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny against a decision to bar him from running in Russia's 2018 presidential election.

The court said on January 6 that its decision on December 30 to uphold a ruling five days earlier by Russia's Central Election Commission that the anticorruption crusader isn't eligible to run "remains without change, and the appellate complaint of the administrative plaintiff, without satisfaction."

The court said the decision by the Central Election Commission fully conforms to law.

A lawyer for Navalny said the politician will appeal to the presidium of the Supreme Court and could take the case on to the Constitutional Court if need be.

Previously, Navalny's lawyers have said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Navalny is barred from running for office because of a conviction in a fraud case, which has been viewed as political retribution.

Following his disqualification, Navalny called on his supporters to boycott the March 18 presidential vote.

He has also announced plans to hold protests across Russia on January 28 to press home his call for a boycott of the election.

The Kremlin has said such boycott calls should be reviewed by officials to see whether they break the law.

President Vladimir Putin is set to easily win a fourth term in office in the election, with his approval ratings topping 80 percent.

Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999, is seeking a new six-year term in the election.

Over the past year, Navalny has mounted a grassroots campaign across Russia.

Presidential campaigning officially started in Russia on December 18.

More than 20 people have declared their intention to run in the March election, including liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, business ombudsman Boris Titov, and journalist and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak.

While none of the candidates poses a serious challenge to Putin, analysts say the Kremlin is worried about voter apathy and has focused on ways to boost turnout to make Putin's expected victory as impressive as possible.

Activists protested near the headquarters of the 1+1 TV channel in Kyiv on January 4.

A popular Ukrainian TV station and the creators of a raunchy New Year's skit have been forced to apologize and delete the holiday program from its archives after they were called out for its lewd mocking of sexual minorities.

A handful of picketers gathered outside the Kyiv offices of the 1+1 TV station on January 4 to voice their anger over a Pinocchio parody that activists say was homophobic and deeply insulting to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

The sketch, made by Quarter 95 studios and broadcast on 1+1 on December 31, depicted a Pinocchio-like character -- known by post-Soviet audiences as Buratino -- as transgender and leveled crude jokes about it.

Both 1+1 and Quarter 95 apologized on Facebook. 1+1 added that it had deleted all links to the controversial program from its website and archives and was prepared to provide a platform to discuss transgender issues with other media groups.

The troupe that performed the Buratino bit is led by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a leading Ukrainian actor whose name has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. Zelenskiy had avoided commenting on the controversy as of January 4.

WATCH: LGBT Activists Protest Raunchy 'Pinocchio' Parody (in Ukrainian)

LGBT Activists Protest Raunchy 'Pinocchio' Parody
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In the skit, titled The Carved Buratino 'Coming Out' In The Children's Theater, an animated wooden character seemingly reminiscent of Disney's iconic marionette who dreams of becoming "a real boy" announces that it identifies as a girl and wants to be called by the feminized Buratina. The name Buratino is also scrambled to spell a Russian profanity for sexual intercourse, and a well-known song from Buratino is altered to closely echo a Russian derogatory term for a homosexual. The skit also mocks the rainbow flag of the LGBT community and the letters L, G, B, and T.

The sketch also shows Buratina being rejected by its dog and father and insinuates that the character is likely to commit suicide.

The January 4 protest was organized via Facebook by Sofiia Lapina and attracted 10 people.

Lapina posted a list of demands of 1+1, including a public commitment to "prevent homophobic, transphobic, misogynous, racist, sexist, and any xenophobic content that devalues the dignity and honor of Ukrainians and fuels enmity." She also asked for a public apology from Zelenskiy.

Lapina told the TV station that a transcript of the Buratino program would be sent to international human rights organizations so that "they can also enjoy your humor."

Opinion polls in Ukraine suggest a majority of people view homosexuality as a "perversion" or "mental disease," Amnesty International has noted. The same group suggested in 2015 that Ukrainian officials had "softened their anti-LGBT rhetoric" in the interest of appeasing Brussels but had "resisted EU recommendations to officially adopt legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation" and "the threat of anti-LGBT violence remains real in post-Maidan Ukraine."

In its World Report 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued that "the government has introduced several progressive policies supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong among high-level government officials and the public."

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent Victoria Zhuhan

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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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