Belarusian opposition leader Alex-ander Milinkevich was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the EU's top human rights award, yesterday for his fight for democracy in the ex-Soviet republic, the European Parliament said.
The prize is named after Andrei Sakharov, one of the best known former Soviet dissidents. It is awarded by the EU assembly annually to a person or group judged to have made a particular achievement in the field of human rights, defense of international cooperation or promotion of democracy and the rule of law.
"We feel that we are not alone. Europe is with us," Milinkevich said in Minsk.
"Today close to half a billion Europeans have reached out their hands in support, partnership and solidarity with Belarusians. And this is a victory of moral principles over principles of tyranny," he said.
Milinkevich ran unsuccessfully against President Alexander Lukashenko in elections in March and became the symbol of Belarus' persecuted opposition.
He was awarded the prize after two rounds of voting by leaders of the European Parliament's political groups, parliament spokeswoman Marjory van den Broeke said.
"Milinkevich is the face of the opposition in what is the last dictatorship in Europe. He is a brave man, who has been willing to put himself at risk in an attempt to bring about change in his country," said Hans-Gert Poettering, chairman of the center-right European People's Party, the largest political grouping in the EU assembly.
"We sincerely hope that this award by the European Parliament will substantially help his cause," he said.
Other nominees shortlisted for the prestigious award, which comes with a check for 50,000 euros (US$63,000), were people fighting for the release of hostages kidnapped in Colombia, represented by Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian presidential candidate held by the rebels while campaigning in the jungle during the 2002 race and still missing; and Ghassan Tueni, the father of a Lebanese anti-Syrian critic slain in a car bombing.