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Nobel predictions center on human rights

October 6, 2008

By KARL RITTER and DOUG MELLGREN
The Associated Press
October 4, 2008

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Human-rights activists from China and Russia are
considered front-runners to win the Nobel Peace Prize next week,
while bettors are putting their money on an Italian, a Syrian or an
Israeli for the literature award.

The annual guessing game is in full swing as the prize committees
prepare for their final meetings to single out achievements in
science, economics, peace and literature for the $1.3 million awards.

While the selections for medicine, physics, chemistry and economics
are usually met by approval from the scientific community, the peace
and literature committees nearly always face accusations of political bias.

The top member of the Swedish Academy, which awards the literature
prize, sparked a furor in U.S. literary circles this week by saying
the United States is too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as
the center of the literary world.

But Horace Engdahl, the academy's permanent secretary, rejected the
notion that politics has anything to do with Nobel decisions.

"One doesn't read literature with the same part of the brain as one
votes for a political party," he said.

Peace Prize speculation is focusing on human rights, partly because
2008 is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the U.N. Universal
Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Coincidentally, the declaration
was signed on Dec. 10, the date of the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies
and the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.

Peace researcher Stein Toennesson, whose picks tend to shape world
speculation, was leaning toward Chinese dissidents Gao Zhisheng and
Hu Jia, both arrested and jailed through the Beijing Olympics to keep
them out of the public eye.

Toennesson, director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, said
the prize committee might pick a Chinese activist "in view of the
fact that the Olympic Games did not bring the improvement many had
hoped for, but instead led to a number of strict security measures."

He also suggested Russian lawyer and activist Lidia Yusupova as a way
of drawing attention to human-rights abuses in Russia, and to
remember Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in 2006.

Another possible pick is Vietnamese Thich Quang, a Buddhist monk and
dissident who has spent more than 25 years in detention for his
peaceful protests against Vietnam's communist regime.

Toennesson also mentioned Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, a Pakistani
Supreme Court chief justice who was suspended after defying
then-President Pervez Musharraf; as well as the Cluster Munitions
Coalition for its role in drafting a treaty banning cluster bombs, or
an organization such as Human Rights Watch.

Geir Lundestad, the prize committee's nonvoting secretary, said there
were 197 nominations and that the winner would be announced Oct. 10.

Last year, the Peace Prize was shared by former Vice President Al
Gore and the U.N. panel on climate change for raising awareness about
global warming.
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