The European Parliament has awarded its annual human rights prize to the top opposition leader in Belarus, citing his push for democratic reforms in the former Soviet republic.

The award of the Sakharov Prize to Alexander Milinkevich Thursday follows European Union moves this week to widen punitive travel bans on top Belarusian officials widely accused of suppressing democracy in their homeland.

Milinkevich ran unsuccessfully in March against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, in an election widely condemned in the West as fraudulent.

A top member of the European assembly, Has Gert Poettering, called Milinkevich a brave man and the face of the opposition in the last dictatorship in Europe.

In Minsk, Milinkevich told Reuters news agency he will donate his $63,000 prize money to help Belarusians who have suffered for their democratic political ideals.

The prize is named after leading Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. The European Parliament awards it to a person or group judged to have made a particular contribution to the promotion of human rights, international cooperation, democracy or the rule of law.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.