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China's Liu leads Kohl, EU in Peace Nobel race: TV

OSLO (Reuters) - Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is the leading candidate to win the Nobel Peace Prize with the European Union and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl also among the contenders, Norway’s main television networks said on Thursday.

The broadcasters, NRK and TV2, have a history of naming the eventual laureate in their main news programmes the night before the announcement, which comes at 0900 GMT on Friday.

The European Union and Kohl -- who helped unify Germany 20 years ago after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- were not previously seen as likely candidates for the prize handed out by a discreet five-member committee in non-EU Norway.

An award to a Chinese dissident would upset Beijing by shining a powerful light on the issue of human rights in the Asian economic superpower as it seeks to play a bigger role in international affairs.

Another leading candidate is Afghan women’s rights campaigner Sima Samar, the broadcasters said.

Both also mentioned Chinese Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer as a potential winner, although Committee Chair Thorbjoern Jagland kept his cards close to his chest when interviewed by NRK.

“We have to try to capture what is happening in the world, identify what we want to encourage and I think we are able to achieve that (with this year’s prize),” said Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister in charge of the committee since 2009.

Last year’s choice of U.S. President Barack Obama, less than nine months into his term, triggered sharp criticism. Nobel watchers say the panel is likely to select a more traditional laureate this year. [ID:nLDE6951X4]

“It will be an interesting prize this year, as well, and one that can set the agenda,” said Jagland.

Other hopefuls include Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the International Criminal Court, the Democratic Voice of Burma -- an Oslo-based radio and television station focused on beaming in news to military-ruled Myanmar -- and Argentine rights group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.

Additional reporting by Walter Gibbs; Editing by Janet Lawrence