By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament awarded Belarus' democratic opposition on Thursday its annual human rights prize, in support of the country's protests against the results of an August presidential election that the West and the opposition say was rigged.
"My message for you, dear laureates, is to stay strong and not to give up on your fight. Know that we are by your side," European Parliament President David Sassoli said after announcing the prize to "brave women ... prominent political and civil society figures."
The parliament cited 10 opposition figures in its award statement, including the main opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Nobel laureate author Svetlana Alexievich.
Tens of thousands of people have marched through the streets of Belarus' capital Minsk every weekend since the election, despite police brutality and detentions, to denounce what they say is President Alexander Lukashenko's attempt to prolong his 26-year rule.
The EU, Britain, Canada and United States accuse Lukashenko of maintaining power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling independent media.
The 50,000 euro Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded every year. Past winners include South African President Nelson Mandela, Venezuela's democratic opposition and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alexandra Hudson)