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article imageVenezuelan opposition wins European rights prize

By C├ędric SIMON (AFP)     Oct 26, 2017 in World

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded the prestigious Sakharov human rights prize to the beleaguered Venezuelan opposition, calling for a "peaceful transition to democracy" in the crisis-hit country.

The prize was awarded to the Venezuelan National Assembly, dominated by opposition parties, and to political prisoners.

The award comes after months of protests against the regime of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela left 125 people dead and as the oil-rich country teeters on the brink of economic collapse, with the population struggling with shortages of food and such basic necessities as toilet paper and soap.

"There has been a genuine economic and social crisis in Venezuela, the situation has deteriorated, we are facing a genuine humanitarian crisis," European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said.

"We want to make an appeal, we want a pacific transition to democracy," he added, condemning what he called Maduro's "dictatorship".

Announcing the award, the European Parliament said "more than 130 opponents (of the government) have been murdered and more than 500 have been arbitrarily imprisoned".

Belgian liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, whose liberal parliamentary group put the Venezuelans up for the award alongside the centre right EPP, urged international powers to "join us in the fight for freedom" for the country's people.

"This award supports the fight of democratic forces in favour of a democratic Venezuela and against the Maduro regime," he said on Facebook.

- 'An example to all' -

The award comes as the coalition against Maduro appears close to disintegration, with the departure of a key leader on Tuesday bolstering the president ahead of elections next year.

The opposition also suffered a heavy defeat in October 15 regional elections by Maduro's socialists who swept the vote in 18 of Venezuela's 23 states, though the Organization of American States declared the elections illegitimate.

Jose Ignacio Salafranca, an EPP MEP from Spain, hailed the Venezuelan opposition as "an example for all".

"They are brave people who, despite being beaten or imprisoned, are not afraid and do not give up, but fight for their freedom and for their dignity," he said in a statement.

But far-left groups in the parliament condemned the award, saying it amounted to "using the prize for political ends".

Named after the dissident Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, the prize is awarded every year to honour individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression, often falling foul of their governments as a result.

The prize worth 50,000 euros will be handed to the winner during an official ceremony in the European Parliament on December 13.

Last year's prize was awarded to Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar, two Yazidi women activists who escaped the Islamic State group in Iraq.

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