EU envoys to attend Nobel rite despite Chinese ire

OSLO Fri Nov 5, 2010 6:09pm IST

A pro-democracy protester wearing a mask of jailed Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo attends a protest urging for the release of Liu and political prisoners, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files

A pro-democracy protester wearing a mask of jailed Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo attends a protest urging for the release of Liu and political prisoners, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong October 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Tyrone Siu/Files

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OSLO (Reuters) - European Union envoys in Oslo are likely to rebuff growing Chinese pressure to shun next month's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, diplomats said on Friday.

Leaning harder on Western states to ignore Liu's Nobel, Beijing warned European nations on Friday that supporting the jailed Chinese democracy activist would be seen as an affront to China's legal system.

Diplomatic sources said China had sent letters to ambassadors in Oslo either explicitly warning them against showing up at the City Hall ceremony on Dec. 10 or telling them to refrain from "activities aimed against China".

"We had an exchange between European embassies in Oslo regarding the (Chinese) note," Jan Friedrich, deputy chief of Germany's embassy in Oslo, told Reuters on Friday.

"Our position is clear, we will attend as we do every year," he added. Friedrich said he will attend the ceremony in place of the German ambassador, who will be away on a long-planned trip.

Asked for comment, the British Foreign Office said: "The Chinese have raised the issue with us. It is the normal practice of the British ambassador to Norway to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. The ambassador intends to attend this year."

Another senior European diplomat in Oslo, who asked not to be named, said many EU states may implement a "business as usual" strategy -- meaning that those ambassadors who usually attend the Dec. 10 ceremony will do so again this year.

At the gala that is held annually on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death in 1896, the laureate normally gives a speech and receives the medal, which is accompanied by an award of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.52 million).

The lavish rite is usually attended by Norway's king and queen, prime minister and top Norwegian politicians. The Nobel Committee said it has sent out more than 1,000 invitations and that every ambassador in Oslo was invited, as usual.

It is unclear who will receive the prize for Liu, who is serving a 11-year jail term on subversion charges for his role in advocating democracy and multi-party rule.

Geir Lundestad, secretary to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told the daily Aftenposten on Friday: "(China) has made its reaction clear. But I'm sure the ceremony will be worthy and fine, and that we'll see a battle for seats at City Hall this year too."

(With reporting by Walter Gibbs; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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