BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s democratic opposition was awarded the European Union’s human rights award on Thursday and the European Parliament called for a peaceful transition to democracy in the troubled country.
The prize, named after Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was awarded to Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly legislature, which the government has stripped of powers, and all political prisoners, the EU parliament said.
Venezuela is suffering from a harsh economic crisis and President Nicolas Maduro’s government has clamped down on the opposition, jailing or otherwise barring from office many dissenting leaders and activists.
“Today we are supporting a nation’s freedom struggle,” European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said.
“We also want to launch an appeal for a peaceful transition towards democracy and an opening of a humanitarian corridor to ease the suffering,” he added.
Julio Borges, head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, tweeted that it was an honour to receive the award on behalf of the whole of Venezuela, adding: “The international community recognises our people.”
The European Parliament’s left-wing group GUE/NGL, which includes parties such as Germany’s Die Linke, Ireland’s Sinn Fein and Greece’s ruling Syriza, said it would boycott the award ceremony, saying the decision was politically charged.
Previous winners of the prize, first awarded in 1988, include Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and South African President Nelson Mandela.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas; editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Peter Graff