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'Nobel Peace Prize event to go ahead despite Liu's absence'

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will go ahead despite the absence of the winner, jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and his family, and a boycott by several countries including China, the head of the Nobel Institute today.

world Updated: Nov 19, 2010 21:42 IST

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will go ahead despite the absence of the winner, jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and his family, and a boycott by several countries including China, the head of the Nobel Institute said on Friday.

"There will be a very magnificent and dignified ceremony before a full house of course," Geir Lundestad told AFP in a telephone interview.

But "if no one in (Liu's) family can come, we will have to drop those two-to-three minutes ... when the medal and diploma are usually handed over," conceded Lundestad, who is also the influential secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that attributes the Peace Prize.

Liu, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last December on subversion charges after co-authoring a manifesto calling for political reform in China, was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on October 8 -- enraging China's rulers.

The Chinese embassy in Oslo has gone so far as to send a letter to other countries' ambassadors in the city, traditionally invited to the December 10 ceremony, requesting that they refrain from attending.

At least six countries, including Russia, Cuba and Iraq, have said they will not come, and Lundestad said Friday more were likely to join their ranks, although not necessarily all for political reasons.

Most Western countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany have however said they will come.

With Liu Xiaobo in prison and his wife Liu Xia under house arrest, his two brothers likely unable to leave China, and the Nobel Institute refusing to consider handing over the prize to anyone but the laureate's closest family members, the award itself will probably not be given at the ceremony.

Lundestad stressed it remained theoretically possible for someone from Liu's family to come accept the prize on his behalf, and "we can handle it if someone manages to show up even just an hour before the ceremony."

"But we're just saying that if no one shows up, part of the ceremony will most likely be dropped," he said.

As for the traditional highlight of the ceremony, when the laureate gives a long, often inspirational speech about his or her work and aspirations, Norwegian actress Liv Ullman has agreed to read one of Liu's texts this year, Lundestad said.

"Liv Ullman will read a speech he has written. Not a new text, but a beautiful text," he said, pointing out that Liu "has written 700 essays so there was enough to choose from."

"It will be a magnificent ceremony," he stressed, pointing out that "one could say that some of the most important ceremonies we have had in our 109-year history have been the ones where the laureate could not be present."

While 2010 will likely mark the first time the prize is not physically handed out, the award has been picked up by representatives of the laureate on four previous occasions.

Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who was barred by Soviet authorities barred from traveling to Norway to accept his prize in 1975, was represented by his wife, as was Lech Walesa in 1983, when he feared he would not be allowed back into Poland if he traveled to Oslo.

The 1991-prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released a week ago from years of house arrest in Myanmar, was represented at the Oslo ceremony by her two sons.

Following her release, the Nobel Committee immediately invited her to come to Oslo to give a belated acceptance speech, but Lundestad said Friday that would not likely happen for another year or so.

It is however the 1935 prize that explains the Nobel Committee's reluctance to hand out the award to anyone but Liu's closest family this year.

Imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, radical pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was unable to make the trip to Oslo when his prize was handed out a year late, in 1936, but an obscure German lawyer showed up and pocketed his prize money for him.

Before his death in 1938, Ossietzky did make one last public appearance: at the court hearing where the lawyer was sentenced to two years hard labour for embezzling the money.

"You can imagine a situation where we hand out a check for 10 million Swedish kronor (1.04 million euros, 1.4 million dollars) to someone who later turns out not to represent the prize winner and perhaps who uses the money in a way that was not anticipated by the laureate," Lundestad said.

"As soon as you mix in others who are not very close to the laureate, complications can arise ... especially when it comes to the money ... That is something we cannot risk," he said.