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EU, Arab Spring favorites for Nobel Peace Prize

By Karl Ritter

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 6 2011 5:55 p.m. MDT

OSLO, Norway — Arab Spring or European Union? Speculation ahead of the Nobel Peace Prize announcement on Friday is split after cryptic comments by the award committee's chairman.

Many Nobel watchers have seen the revolutions against autocratic regimes in North Africa and the Middle East as the most likely subject of this year's prize. An American professor who wrote a guide to nonviolent protests was a bookmaker's favorite Thursday.

But Norway's TV2 expected the prize to go to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, while remarks by Thorbjoern Jagland, who has led the five-member Norwegian panel since 2009, have fueled speculation the prize could go to the EU.

Even though Norway is not a member, Jagland is a strong supporter of the 27-nation bloc, which many consider a peace-building project as much as an economic union.

In 1990, Jagland wrote a book titled "My European dream" about European unity following the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Aside from his Nobel duties he serves as secretary-general of the Council of Europe, a European human rights organization that is separate from the EU.

Jagland told The Associated Press this week that the prize — decided last Friday — would go to something "obvious" that he considered "the most positive development" in the world right now.

On Thursday he told Norwegian newspaper VG that this year's winner "is involved with something that has been important to me my whole life."

In several interviews he's suggested that Norwegian media are looking in the wrong places — and most of them have speculated about the award going to someone linked to the Arab Spring.

The deadline for nominations was Feb. 1, and committee members could add their own suggestions until Feb. 28. Jagland told AP that was "not necessarily" too late for consideration of leaders of the Arab Spring revolutions, which toppled regimes in Tunisia in January and Egypt in February.

But he added "that doesn't mean that the prize goes in that direction, because there are many other positive developments in the world."

The EU, or some institution within it, could be a strong candidate if the committee views the prize as a booster shot, like it had intended with the 2009 award to Barack Obama in the first year of his presidency.

The European debt crisis has put the bloc under heavy pressure, with Greece, Portugal and Ireland needing bailouts from international creditors including other nations in the 17-nation eurozone that uses the common euro currency.

But Sverre Lodgaard, a deputy member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who didn't take part in its deliberations, told reporters Wednesday that he didn't believe in an EU award because it's a divisive issue in Norway.

Leading Nobel-guesser Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, also doubted that the EU would get the prize.

His top picks are Egyptian activists Israa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher and the April 6 Youth Movement, a pro-democracy Facebook group they co-founded in 2008.

He also suggested Wael Ghonim, a marketing executive for Google, for re-energizing the protests on Cairo's Tahrir Square after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni who started criticizing the Tunisian regime before the uprising began in December.

Another candidate could be Turkey's Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Harpviken said, to honor Turkish peace efforts "as a bridge builder between east and west."

Betting site paddypower.com gave the lowest odds Thursday to retired American scholar Gene Sharp, whose writings on nonviolent resistance are believed to have inspired some protesters in the Arab world. The second-lowest odds were given to Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar, a recurring name in Nobel speculation over the years.

Others getting bets include the Russian human rights organization Memorial and its founder Svetlana Gannushkina, and the social networking site Facebook.

Norway's TV2 predicted that Johnson Sirleaf would get the prize for promoting peace, democracy and economic growth in her country and advocating for women's rights at the U.N.

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