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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 19:03 GMT
Cuban dissident collects EU prize
Oswaldo Paya receives Sakharov award from European Parliament President Pat Cox
Oswaldo Paya is Cuba's most prominent dissident
Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has received the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for freedom of expression on Tuesday to a standing ovation from the European Union Assembly in Strasbourg.

The prize was given to him in recognition of his attempts to obtain free elections on the Caribbean island.

Named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, the prize is given annually to people who defend human rights and democracy.

The Varela petition being delivered Cuba's National Assembly
11,000 Cubans signed Paya's 'Varela' petition
Previous recipients of the award include former South African President Nelson Mandela and Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Oswaldo Paya's request for an exit visa to attend the ceremony was denied by the Cuban authorities, until it was almost too late.

Havana apparently gave in under pressure from European politicians.

Foreign encouragement

Mr Paya is currently Cuba's most prominent dissident.

A devout Christian, he led the Varela Project, a petition which calls for a referendum in Cuba on whether Cubans favour such rights as freedom of speech, free elections, and the ability to own private businesses.

The project raised 11,000 signatures and earned the praise of former US President Jimmy Carter when he made his historic visit last May.

But it has been ignored by the Cuban Government.

Before leaving Havana, Oswaldo Paya said he was accepting the award on behalf of the Cuban people.

He said he saw it as international encouragement to the Varela Project.

See also:

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