İrem UZUN -TDO- Former Belarus presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged the European Union to step up its support for embattled democracy protesters in her country, as she picked up the EU’s top human rights prize Wednesday on behalf of a group of opposition leaders.  “Without a free Belarus, Europe is not fully free either. We ask Europe and the whole world to stand with Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya told lawmakers in Brussels as she collected the Sakharov Prize, which was awarded by the European Parliament to the Belarus opposition in October.

“I have only one wish this year,” Tikhanovskaya, who is currently based in Lithuania, said in her address to the chamber. “I want every Belarusian who is now in jail or was forced to live in exile to return home.”  The 38-year-old leader demanded a tougher response from Europe against Lukashenko’s government, as the man critics call “Europe’s last dictator” clings to power after more than a quarter of a century in charge.

Belarus has been gripped by four months of unprecedented anti-government demonstrations that erupted after a disputed presidential election in August which saw Lukashenko claim a sixth term in office. His opponents say the polls were rigged and that political novice Tikhanovskaya, who ran in place of her jailed husband was the true winner.  Belarusian security forces have unleashed a harsh crackdown against the protests, detaining demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile. The European Union has imposed sanctions on dozens of officials in Belarus in recent months.

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