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Norway FM denies pressure in peace prize pick

China media still furious over Nobel Peace Prize
Norway feels full force of China's anger

OSLO, October 18, 2010 (AFP) - Norway's foreign minister denied Monday reports he tried to pressure the Nobel Committee against awarding the peace prize to a Chinese dissident but acknowledged passing on Beijing's concerns to its head.

"I would like to clearly reject allegations that I tried to 'pressure' the head of the committee," Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote in a column in Norwegian paper of reference Aftenposten.

Norwegian media reported at the weekend that Stoere last month met committee president Thorbjoern Jagland right after talks with his Chinese counterpart who had reiterated Beijing's opposition to the prize going to a Chinese dissident.

During their meeting, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, about two weeks before the October 8 announcement, Stoere had reportedly warned Jagland of the consequences of giving the prize to a Chinese dissident.

The Norwegian foreign minister said Monday he had by chance run into Jagland, who was in New York in his capacity as the head of the European Council, right after his meeting with his Chinese counterpart.

"Jagland was coincidentially the first person I met on the sidewalk outside the UN building," Stoere wrote.

During their conversation, which lasted a few minutes, "I mentioned the meeting (with the Chinese foreign minister) in passing, and that much of the conversation was about China's concerns about this year's Nobel Peace Prize," he said, pointing out that this was the same message Chinese authorities had been trumpeting for months.

"I never 'warned against giving the peace prize' to a Chinese nominee or to anyone else," Stoere insisted, adding that "that was not what our short exchange on the New York sidewalk was about," Stoere wrote, pointing out that Jagland too had denied allegations that any pressure had been exerted.

Liu Xiaobo, a 54-year-old former university professor serving an 11-year sentence for subversion, was awarded the peace prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

Chinese authorities, who warned the choice would "harm the Sino-Norwegian relationship," have since the announcement cancelled a number of official delegations to Norway, as well as official ministerial meetings and Norwegian cultural events in China.

Norway, which aims to become the first European country to clinch a free trade deal with the Asian superpower, has meanwhile stressed that the government has no say in the peace prize pick.

The five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are appointed by parliament but are independent of the Norwegian government and the house.

"In the meetings I have had with Chinese leaders in 2010 ... I have stressed the Nobel Committee's independence," Stoere wrote Monday, pointing out that he had repeatedly "rejected that (the prize choice) is something the Norwegian government wants or can raise with the committee."

"If attempts to influence (the choice) had any effect at all it would be the opposite" of what was intended, he said.

Last Updated (Friday, 22 October 2010 09:29)


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