- Associated Press - Friday, December 10, 2010

OSLO, Norway (AP) — With his Nobel Peace Prize diploma placed in an 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.

Protesters scream for the freedom of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010, outside the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, Norway. (AP Photo/John McConnico)
Protesters scream for the freedom of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo on ... more >

“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.”

He placed Liu’s Nobel diploma on the empty chair marking Liu’s absence.

Norwegian actress Liv Ullman read Liu’s final 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,” saying 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, Elie Wiesel and 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. The prize can be collected only by the laureate or close family members.

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, changed its mind and attended.

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