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Jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner applauded in Oslo

Published: Friday, Dec. 10 2010 9:57 a.m. MST

The Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma are seen on an empty chair representing Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo after a ceremony honoring Liu at city hall in Oslo, Norway Friday Dec. 10, 2010. Liu, a democracy activist, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system.

John McConnico, Associated Press

OSLO, Norway — With his Nobel Peace Prize diploma and medal placed in his empty chair, imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was given a standing ovation at the award ceremony Friday as dignitaries demanded his release.

It was the first time in 74 years the prestigious $1.4 million award was not handed over, because Liu is serving an 11-year sentence in China on subversion charges for urging sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system.

China was infuriated when the 54-year-old literary critic won, describing the award as an attack on its political and legal system. Authorities have placed Liu's supporters, including his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest to prevent anyone from picking up his prize.

In China, both CNN and BBC TV channels went black at 8 p.m. local time for nearly an hour, exactly when the Oslo ceremony took place. Security outside Liu's Beijing apartment was heavy and several dozen journalists were herded by police to a cordoned-off area.

In his speech, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland called for Liu's release, receiving an unusual standing ovation at the international gathering.

"He has not done anything wrong. He must be released," Jagland said. He noted that neither Liu nor his closest relatives were able to attend the ceremony.

"This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate," Jagland said.

Liu's Nobel diploma and medal were placed on the empty chair marking his absence.

Norwegian actress Liv Ullman read Liu's statement, "I Have No Enemies," which he delivered in a Chinese court in 2009 before he was jailed.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry described the award as a "political farce" and said it reflected Cold War mentality and infringed upon China's judicial sovereignty.

"(It) does not represent the wish of the majority of the people in the world, particularly that of the developing countries," ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said he regretted that Liu and his wife were not allowed to go to the ceremony as he and first lady Michelle Obama did when he won the peace prize last year.

"Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was," he said.

Also Friday, a group of Nobel laureates, including former South African President F.W. de Klerk, Nazi death camp survivor and author Elie Wiesel and Northern Ireland politician John Hume, offered to mediate with the Chinese government for Liu's early release.

The last time a Nobel Peace Prize was not handed out was in 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting his award.

China had pressured foreign diplomats to stay away from the Nobel ceremony, with 17 other countries joining their boycott, including Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. At least 46 of the 65 countries with embassies in Oslo accepted invitations. Serbia, which previously said it would stay away, announced Thursday it would now attend.

Some 1,000 guests, including ambassadors, royalty and other VIPs sat solemnly in atrium hall of Oslo's modernist City Hall for the ceremony, applauding occasionally during the speeches.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who attended with U.S. Ambassador Barry White, told The Associated Press that it was "an honor" for her to be there.

"It is really a joy of my official life. For decades we have worked for human rights in China and Liu Xiaobo has been a hero to all of us," she said.

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