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Nippon Foundation chairman Sasakawa awarded Gandhi Peace Prize

This photo taken on Feb. 26, 2019, shows Yohei Sasakawa (L), chairman of the Nippon Foundation, with India's President Ram Nath Kovind (R) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) during the Gandhi Peace prize ceremony in New Delhi on Feb. 26, 2019. (Kyodo)

NEW DELHI (Kyodo) -- Indian President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize to Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa for his work to eliminate leprosy and associated discrimination.

    Sasakawa is the first Japanese national to receive the annual award, which was started in 1995 on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

    It is given to individuals or groups that have worked selflessly for peace, non-violence and amelioration of human sufferings.

    At the ceremony, the Indian president said Sasakawa's work to remove the stigma toward leprosy-affected people "is like providing light in complete darkness. I congratulate him for his success."

    Sasakawa, the WHO goodwill ambassador for leprosy elimination, said he first became keenly aware of the sufferings of people affected by leprosy over 40 years ago.

    "I was shocked to encounter the despair of those who could no longer live as human beings with dignity. This is when I decided to devote my life to fight against it," he said.

    The award includes a prize of 10 million rupees (about $140,000). Past non-Indian recipients include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.

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