France says EU nations to attend Nobel peace award

PARIS Tue Nov 9, 2010 12:40pm EST

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PARIS (Reuters) - European countries are planning to attend a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring dissident Liu Xiaobo, France said on Tuesday, rebuffing calls from China for its trade partners to boycott the event.

China reacted angrily when the imprisoned Liu was awarded the prize last month, calling it an "obscenity" that would not change the country's political system. Liu's wife and a score of other dissidents have since been put under house arrest.

China's vice foreign minister and its key negotiator for the Group of 20 meetings told journalists last week that any European government officials who attended the December ceremony for Liu would "have to bear the consequences."

In an apparent rebuttal, France said it planned to send an ambassador to the December 10 Oslo ceremony in keeping with tradition and that other countries were likely to do the same.

Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands all said they would follow normal protocol and send an ambassador to the ceremony.

"France is always represented by its ambassador to Norway at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. This tradition will continue this year," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said at a briefing.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao on a state visit last week in a bid to win support for France's chair of the G20 from November 12. Sarkozy had looked to avoid publicly broaching human rights in China.

Another foreign ministry spokesman said European countries would decide whether to attend on a case-by-case basis until all 27 members of the EU arrived at a common position.

In Berlin, a foreign ministry spokesman said Germany had already informed Beijing of its plans to attend the ceremony.

Yet China, outraged by what it considers a political statement against its government by the Nobel Committee, ramped up its efforts this week to bring about a boycott of the prize ceremony, calling on Japan not to attend.

Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence on subversion charges for his role in advocating democracy and an end to the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly of power.

(Additional reporting by Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm bureau; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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