- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

OSLO — Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai yesterday claimed her Nobel Peace Prize to the beat of African drums, telling an audience of royalty, celebrities and diplomats that protecting the world’s resources is linked to halting violence.

“Today, we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system,” the first African woman and first environmental activist to win the peace prize said.

Mrs. Maathai, 64, warned that the world remained under attack from disease, deforestation and war.

“We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds, and in the process heal our own, indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder,” she told the crowd of dignitaries, including the Norwegian royal family as well as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Mrs. Maathai’s selection for the peace prize raised eyebrows because of earlier assertions that scientists had created the AIDS virus as a biological weapon.

“In fact [the HIV virus that causes AIDS] is created by a scientist for biological warfare,” she said told reporters at a press conference in Nairobi a day after the Nobel prize was announced in October.

“Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious,” she said at the time.

Yesterday, Mrs. Maathai said that her comments were misquoted and taken out of context.

“I have not said what I’m quoted as saying,” she insisted in remarks released by the Nobel committee. “I neither say nor believe that the virus was developed by white people or white powers in order to destroy the African people. Such views are wicked and destructive.”

In neighboring Sweden, the other Nobel prizes — for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics — were awarded.

Absent from Stockholm was the literature prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria, who cited a social phobia. Although she sent a video lecture, she did not send any prepared remarks for the banquet.

Americans Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck won the medicine prize for their work on the sense of smell. Americans David J. Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek won the physics prize for their explanation of the force that binds particles inside the atomic nucleus.

The chemistry prize was awarded to Israelis Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko and American Irwin Rose for their work in discovering a process that lets cells destroy unwanted proteins.

Norwegian Finn E. Kydland and American Edward C. Prescott received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for shedding light on how government policies and actions affect economies worldwide.

The economics prize, introduced in 1968, is funded by Sweden’s central bank. The other awards are funded by the Nobel Foundation.

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