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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minsk Frees 14 Russian Protesters

MINSK -- A Belarussian court on Saturday freed 14 Russians arrested with members of Belarus' opposition and Ukrainian activists at a rally against President Alexander Lukashenko.

"We reduced the punishment, given that the Russians were first-time offenders," Minsk City Court Judge Mikhail Ardyako said.

The 14 Russians, who included pro-democracy activists and two journalists, on Wednesday received jail terms ranging from five to 15 days for taking part in the rally in central Minsk a day earlier.

The Russian ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Blokhin, had appealed to President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday to show leniency toward the detained Russians. They left Belarus for Russia later in the day by train.

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry said the release was proof of Minsk's commitment to integration with Russia.

Five Ukrainian activists who were sentenced to jail terms ranging from nine to 15 days remained in custody. Their detention prompted an official note of protest from Ukraine last week. Twelve Belarussians were also still in jail.

The Russians were defiant as they boarded their train in Minsk, shouting: "Long live Belarus. Down with Lukashism." Ilya Yanin, from the youth wing of the liberal Yabloko party, denounced the "dictatorship in Belarus."

Russian Newsweek journalist Alexei Ametov said he would inform the Russians "about the unlawfulness that reigns in Belarus."