STAVANGER, Norway — Bettors this year are putting their money on Edward Snowden, Pope Francis or a Pakistani schoolgirl as favorites to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
As usual, the secretive Norwegian Nobel Committee hasn't dropped any hints ahead of Friday's announcement, revealing only that it had received a record 278 nominations. Geir Lundestad of the Norwegian Nobel Committee has suggested the choice was more difficult this year, telling The Associated Press they had "seven meetings rather than five or six."
Here's a look at some names generating the most Peace Prize buzz this year:
The former National Security Agency contractor blew the lid on mass U.S. surveillance in the summer of 2013 — too late to be a contender for last year's prize — but two Norwegian lawmakers nominated him for the 2014 award. One of them, Snorre Valen, said Snowden's disclosures qualified for the peace prize because "surveillance is the latest arms race. For there to be any chance of peace, countries have to be able to trust each other." Snowden, who remains exiled in Russia, has said he is proud to have been nominated but considers himself an outsider for the $1.1 million award.
Since he became pope in March 2013, Francis has been a notable champion of the poor with incognito visits to homeless people and demands for development and wealth redistribution. The pope is the bookmakers' favorite but, after the fallout when President Barack Obama got the prize in 2009, awarding Francis the Nobel a year into his papacy might be too soon. If he did win, the Argentine would be the first head of the Catholic Church to get the prize.
The Pakistani teen who campaigned against the Taliban's destruction of girls schools was shot in the head by the group in 2012. Many guessed she would win last year — and were wrong, as the prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Now 17, she has continued to speak out in support of women's rights but is considered more of an outsider for the prize. Still, her odds have dropped to 12-1 from 20-1 a few weeks ago, according to the betting firm Unibet.
The Congolese gynecologist who campaigns against sexual violence in war has been receiving Nobel buzz for a few years now. If the committee tires of controversy or is struggling to agree, Mukwege could take the prize. Norwegian lawmaker Bard Soljhell believes Mukwege is most likely to win because "he would be very worthy and uncontroversial."
Some critics say the Nobel Peace Prize committee should have called attention to developments in Russia long ago. After Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, this could be the year — but who would get such a prize? Kristian Harpviken, head of the PRIO peace institute in Oslo, says the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta could be a good possibility, due to its criticism of the Kremlin and its investigations into official corruption. Four of its reporters have been killed since 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin. It's unclear if the paper has been nominated.
THE PEOPLE OF LAMPEDUSA
An Oslo professor has nominated the people of the Italian island of Lampedusa to call attention to the perilous journey that refugees fleeing war and poverty make every year in search of a better life in Europe. This year is on track to see the most refugees ever cross the Mediterranean Sea, and the United Nations says more than 3,000 of them have died trying to cross. The residents of Lampedusa, on the front line of this human flood, were cited for their empathy and solidarity with the migrants.