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Liberian President and Cuban Dissident Among US Medal of Freedom Winners

President Bush has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, imprisoned Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, and six others. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

The children of Oscar Elias Biscet, a human rights activist, who is in prison in Cuba, received the medal on behalf of their father at a White House ceremony Monday.

President Bush said Oscar Biscet is a political prisoner who is "dangerous" to the Cuban dictatorship because he has always told the truth.

"In captivity for most of the last eight years, he has continued to embody courage and dignity," he said. "His example is a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing. Dr. Biscet is also a young man. God willing, he will soon regain his freedom as justice demands."

President Bush also presented the honor to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was on hand to have the president fasten the medal around her neck. He said the first woman elected to head a nation on the African continent has always been a pioneer, and praised her for seeking to heal a country torn apart by years of civil war.

"Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stood up for the democratic rights of her fellow citizens," said President Bush. "She never wavered, even though the consequences were house arrests, or foreign exile, death threats and imprisonment."

Mr. Bush said President Sirleaf has the tough mind of a natural-born executive, who knows how to get things done and knows what she wants when she comes to Washington.

"You see when the president comes to the Oval Office, she walks in with a 'To-Do' list," he said.

The president also gave the award to Harper Lee, the author of the 1960 novel about racial injustice, "To Kill a Mockingbird." Mr. Bush said that Lee's novel has influenced the character of America for the better, and that her "wise and kind" heart comes through on every page.

The president also presented the honor to economist Gary Becker, for improving the standard of living for people around the world, and genetic researcher Francis Collins, for overseeing the mapping of the human genome. The presidential medal of freedom also went to C-Span founder Brian Lamb, civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks and former U.S. Congressman Henry Hyde.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honor bestowed by a president, recognizes contributions to the causes of peace and freedom, and to science, the arts and literature.