US praises Belarusian dissident for winning EU award

dpa German Press Agency

Washington- The United States on Friday congratulated Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich for winning an EU award for his effort to promote freedom in the repressive Eastern European country. Milinkevich challenged Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko in March's presidential election widely condemned as rigged and plagued by arrests and beatings of political opponents. Milinkevich spent two weeks in jail after the election.

The EU parliament announced Thursday Milinkevich had won the prestigious Sakharov Prize.

"The prize is awarded each year to celebrate freedom of thought and demonstrates Europe's recognition, which we share, of the courage of the political opposition in pursuing democracy in the hostile environment that exists in Belarus today," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The United States describes Belarus as Europe's "last dictatorship" and, like the European Union, has introduced sanctions and travel bans against the country's leadership.

McCormack called on Lukashenko to release all political prisoners.

"The Lukashenko regime has repeatedly demonstrated a disdain for basic human freedoms to maintain its dictatorial rule," he said.

"This award shows that the indomitable human will for open political expression and freedom of speech exemplified by Andrei Sakharov is alive and well in Belarus today," he said.

The EU prize in named after Andrei Sakharov, the Russian born nuclear physicist turned human rights activist who advocated civil liberties in the Soviet Union before his death in 1989.