Empty chair for Chinese laureate Liu at Nobel Peace ceremony
Oslo (AFP) Dec 10, 2010
The head of the Nobel committee placed this year's peace prize on an empty chair Friday as Beijing raged against the award to dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is languishing in a Chinese prison cell.
As Communist authorities in Beijing fumed at the prize for the 54-year-old author and pro-China demonstrators gathered near the Oslo awards venue, last year's laureate US President Barack Obama led calls for Liu to be set free.
And while around 20 countries boycotted the ceremony after threats of "consequences" from China, those who did attend heard a speech from Liu in which he described the quest for freedom as an unstoppable force.
"We regret that the laureate is not present here today," Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said as he placed the peace prize diploma and gold medal on the chair in Oslo City Hall.
"Liu has only exercised his civil rights. He has not done anything wrong. He must be released."
Jagland was echoing calls by Obama and the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was," Obama said in a statement.
"The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible," the US president said.
Liu, a former professor who was at the forefront of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring "Charter 08", a manifesto that spread quickly on the Internet calling for political reform and greater rights in China.
Dozens of ambassadors, movie stars Denzel Washington and Anne Hathaway -- who will host Saturday's Nobel concert in Oslo -- and outgoing Speaker of the US House Nancy Pelosi joined Norway's king and queen in a flower-decked city hall to honour Liu and listen to a speech he wrote ahead of his sentencing last year.
"There is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme," went the text, read by Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann.
"I hope that I will be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisition and that from now on, no one will be incriminated because of speech."
There was a show of support for Liu in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong where a crowd cheered as they watched the ceremony on a giant screen at a park.
But on mainland China, authorities reacted with fury to the prize, blacking out live broadcasts of the event by CNN and the BBC.
Many dissidents were either unaccounted for or under strict surveillance Friday, with many unable to communicate to the outside world as their Internet access was cut off and phone use limited, rights groups said.
Li Fangping, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer who had been under constant surveillance in the capital in recent weeks, told AFP he left Tuesday for the southeastern province of Fujian and was ordered not to leave China or say anything related to Liu and the prize.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu in statement blasted the "political theatre" in Olso.
"Facts fully show that the decision of the Nobel Committee cannot represent the overall majority of the people of the world," she said.
Liu, who will receive his medal, diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor (1.1 million euros, 1.4 million dollars) prize money at a later date, was only the second laureate in history that could not attend or send a representative.
The only other time was in 1936 when German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was locked up in a Nazi concentration camp.
The laureate's wife, Liu Xia, has been placed under house arrest since the prize was announced on October 8. During the ceremony, security was reinforced in front of her Beijing apartment complex, with police cars lining the road.
In his speech, Liu hailed his wife's "selfless love," pointing out that "I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart."
The speeches were followed by a concert by a children's choir, which had been expressly requested by the laureate, and a torch lit procession in his honour was to wind through the Norwegian capital later Friday.
The laureates of the Nobel prizes for chemistry, physics, literature and economics meanwhile collected their awards at a separate ceremony in the Swedish capital.
The winner of the medicine prize, 85-year-old British doctor Robert Edwards, who pioneered in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), did not make the trip for health reasons, but his wife Ruth received the prize on his behalf.
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China News from SinoDaily.com
Beijing (AFP) Dec 10, 2010
China's state press on Friday compared the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony to a cult ritual, saying the event to take place in Norway was a "farce". Friday's ceremony honouring this year's peace laureate, jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, has angered China which has orchestrated a huge clampdown on dissidents and exerted pressure on other countries not to attend the Oslo event. "It's unimaginable ... read more
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