Chinese dissident, rights activists from Russia, Afghanistan hot candidates Nobel Peace Prize

By Karl Ritter, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chinese dissident hot bet for Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, Norway — Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo tops speculation for the Nobel Peace Prize — one betting site has already declared him the winner — though some experts expect a more low-key choice on Friday.

Two women are also hot candidates in this year’s Nobel buzz: Afghan women’s rights activist Sima Samar and Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina.

The last woman to win the coveted award was Wangari Maathai of Kenya in 2004. Of the 97 peace laureates to date, only 12 have been women.

Liu, who was sentenced last Christmas Day to 11 years in prison for subversion, has received by far the most attention in the annual guessing-game for the $1.5 million award.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power said it received so many bets on the 54-year-old literary critic it decided on an early payout, shelling out more than euro5,000 in total to those who had put money on him by the end of Tuesday.

“Obviously we’re taking a risk but it’s a calculated one. Over the past decade we have never experienced such strong betting support for any individual candidate and this leads us to believe that this year’s Nobel cat is well and truly out of the bag,” company spokesman Ken Robertson said in a statement.

The nonvoting secretary of the Nobel committee Geir Lundestad called the decision “bizarre,” but declined to comment further on speculation surrounding the award.

Norwegian analysts who follow the peace prize closely said they expect a winner with a lower profile, especially considering the unusually strong criticism the award committee faced last year for honoring President Barack Obama. Critics said the award was premature, just nine months into his presidency.

Rewarding Liu would be a major embarrassment to the Chinese government, which has warned the Nobel committee that giving the prize to a Chinese dissident would harm relations between Norway and China.

“I do not think (giving the Nobel to Liu) is likely due to the obvious political costs to Norway,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, a prominent Nobel-watcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

He guessed the award would go to Samar, who heads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and formerly served as U.N. special investigator for Sudan.

Jonas Christoffersen, director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, agreed.

“She has worked tireless to promote human rights in Afghanistan over many years,” Christoffersen said.

Harpviken’s other picks were the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma — a Norway-based shortwave radio station and website run by exiled Myanmar dissidents — and the Special Court for Sierra Leone set up in 2002.

Norwegian national broadcaster NRK has focused on Gannushkina and Memorial, a prominent rights group she works with.

Norwegian news agency NTB said former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was also a potential winner, for his role in the reunification of Germany 20 years ago.

Other candidates figuring in the speculation include Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, an international movement against cluster bombs and Argentina’s Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group.

Football legend Diego Maradona has lent his support to the latter, citing its “courageous” search for children stolen at birth from women illegally detained by the Argentinian dictatorship three decades ago.

Former peace prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and Vaclav Havel have joined those calling for Liu to get the award.

Other Chinese dissidents who could be tapped include Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng.

The secretive peace prize committee, which is comprised of five former Norwegian politicians and Lundestad, received a record 237 nominations for this year’s prize.

The Nobel Prizes were established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and were first handed out in 1901. The peace prize is the only one given out in Norway — the rest are in Sweden — in line with Nobel’s wishes. The Scandinavian neighbors were joined in a union during his lifetime.

Ritter reported from Stockholm.

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