Belarus opposition leader awarded EU Sakharov Prize

STRASBOURG: Belarus opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich has been awarded the 2006 Sakharov prize for freedom of thought by the European parliament.

Milinkevich ran against Alexander Lukashenko in the March 2006 presidential elections, the results of which were condemned by the EU and the US.

Lukashenko says the election gave him 82 per cent of the vote - but OSCE election monitors condemned the results as "severely flawed".

Milinkevich was jailed for two weeks after taking part in an "unauthorised rally" in Minsk protesting the results.

The opposition leader had asked the European parliament for its support in Feburary, but a delegation of MEP election observers were refused entry by Belarus authorities.

The Sakharov prize is awarded every year by the European parliament to individuals who have stood up for human rights or freedom.

Previous awardees include Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan.

The winner, who receives a ?50,000 prize, is selected by the chairpeople of all the parliament's political groups.

This year's other nominees were Lebanese journalist Ghassan Tueni, and Ingrid Betancourt and the Pais Libre Foundation.

The award will be formally presented to Milinkevich by parliament chief Josep Borrell during the December plenary session.