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Chinese dissidents to attend Nobel Peace award rite

OSLO (Reuters) - A significant number of Chinese dissidents are likely to attend the December 10 ceremony honoring jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, a senior Nobel official said Monday, despite Beijing’s ire over the award.

Committee secretary Geir Lundestad said Liu had conveyed some requests for the ceremony, including a children’s choir, to the Nobel Committee via his wife and a third party.

Liu’s side had also not given a definite instruction as to who should receive the 10 million Swedish crown ($1.5 million) award on his behalf, Lundestad told Reuters in an interview.

The committee expects a “very significant number” of Chinese dissidents to be at the ceremony, Lundestad said, without explaining how the panel had learned of this.

“We have been told that several hundred (activists) could come, but we expect a substantial reduction in the number because many come from China,” he said, explaining they may not be able to get visas or have the money to finance the trip.

Many governments have protested against foreign awards given to dissidents in their countries in the past but China has gone a step further. Last week it sent letters to European Union embassies pressing officials not to attend the ceremony.

Friday, Beijing warned European nations that any public support for Liu and his prize would be seen as an affront to China’s legal system.

Asked whether such a campaign by a government had occurred in recent decades, Lundestad said: “Not as directly as this.”

CHINESE ANGER

China has fumed publicly over the Nobel Committee’s choice of the pro-democracy activist, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence on subversion charges for his role in advocating democracy and an end to the Communist Party’s power monopoly.

“The Chinese reaction was fairly strong,” Lundestad said, “although it was not as strong as was expected when (the committee) discussed around this table what the likely Chinese response would be.”

Speaking in the stately room where the committee holds its deliberations -- with walls covered with pictures of past laureates, Lundestad said Liu wanted a children’s choir to sing at the ceremony “and this will be done.

“He likes children and this would be the kind of music he would appreciate,” said Lundestad. The Norwegian National Opera’s children choir will perform on Liu’s behalf, he said.

“There are various people they (the Liu couple) want invited, but we have not reached a final conclusion about the handover part of the ceremony,” Lundestad said.

“If there is the least doubt, we will simply hang on to the diploma, ceremony and prize for a later occasion.”

The ceremony, held on the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896, will also feature “a moving text” by Liu read aloud by Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann.

Lundestad said Liu’s instructions came through Liu Xia, the laureate’s wife, via a third party.

“We have had some contacts with her. We have also heard, through her, from Liu Xiaobo.” He declined to say what means were used to get in touch but added: “There is every reason (to believe) that the information is genuine.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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