INTERVIEW-Nobel Peace Prize wide open, no obvious pick

* Record number under consideration

* Tsvangirai, Betancourt mooted, but committee won't comment

* Winner to be announced on Oct. 9

OSLO, Sept 25 (Reuters) - A record number of candidates remains in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize two weeks before a winner is announced, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute told Reuters on Friday.

A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated for the prize. Geir Lundestad said the number still under consideration was "significantly higher" than the two to three on the shortlist most years since his tenure began in 1990.

"This late in the selection process we have never had as many candidates left," the history professor said in an interview.

"This is not a year when the candidate seems rather obvious."

Unlike some years, he said there were no "heavy, heavy favourites" to win the prize, named for the 19th-century Swedish philanthropist and inventor of dynamite, which is seen as one of the world's greatest accolades.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but true to form the institute declined to comment.

"We represent a mixture of realism and idealism: We love bridge building, we are slightly left of centre globally and this is maybe where the prize should be positioned," Lundestad said about the five-member Nobel committee.

"But remember, I have revealed nothing," he added.

He said the world's biggest story of the past year -- the global economic meltdown -- has not had much impact on the candidates put forward for the secretive Nobel committee.

But also not many high-level peace processes have made much headway this year, keeping the field of candidates wide open.

In his 1895 will, Nobel created the prize for those who do most for "fraternity between the nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses".


The Nobel committee has "widened the definition of peace" to include humanitarian work from its onset in 1901, added human rights in the 1960s and environmental activism this decade.

Some say that with much focus on global climate talks due in Copenhagen later this year, the five-member Norwegian Nobel committee could again award the prize for environmentalism.

Green activists won the prize twice in the past five years, with former U.S. vice president Al Gore and the United Nations climate research panel winning in 2007 and Kenyan conservationist Wangari Maathai in 2004.

Lundestad said the link between the environment and peace was becoming increasingly apparent as melting Arctic ice triggers new territorial claims, rising ocean waters force migration and desertification spreads all types of hardships.

But he said the panel had "no rotation" for types of peace work or the region from which the winner hails. Over time "all paths to peace" and all continents will be honoured, he said.

The independent international Peace Research Institute in Oslo picked Colombian peace activist Piedad Cordoba, Jordanian interfaith dialogue pioneer Ghazi bin Muhammad and Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar as its favourites for the prize.

Editing by Michael Roddy