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Defying Chinese outrage, exiled dissidents, ambassadors from dozens of countries, Norwegian royals and other dignitaries will gather around an empty chair Friday to hail absent Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Beijing has reacted with fury to the award of the prize to Liu, describing the Norwegian Nobel Committee as "clowns," and threatening other countries to stay away from the ceremony, while preventing the jailed dissident or a representative from travelling to Oslo to receive the award in person.
"Dr. Liu's chair will be conspicuously empty at today's award ceremony," Irwin Cotler, a member of Liu's international legal team, said in a statement just hours before the ceremony was to kick off in the Oslo city hall at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT).
Friday marks only the second time in the more than 100-year history of the prize that neither the laureate nor a representative will be able to accept the award.
The only other time was when German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was locked up in a Nazi concentration camp, could not travel to Oslo for his prize ceremony in 1936.
Like Ossietzky, who was a critic of the regime under which he lived, Liu has long been an outspoken opponent of Chinese leadership in Beijing.
The writer and former university professor was at the forefront of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
He was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring "Charter 08", a manifesto that spread quickly on the Internet calling for political reform and greater rights in China.
"I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison," Liu said shortly after his sentence was handed down on Christmas Day.
"Now I am taking that step, and true freedom is that much nearer," he added.
As well as threatening "consequences" for countries that show Liu support, Beijing has clamped down on media and dissidents at home.
The laureate's wife, Liu Xia, has been placed under house arrest since the prize was announced on October 8, and hours before Friday's ceremony in Oslo, security was strong in front of her Beijing apartment complex, with marked and unmarked police cars lining the road.
Many other dissidents in China were either unaccounted for or under strict surveillance, with many unable to communicate to the outside world as their Internet access was cut off and phone use limited, rights groups said.
Nonetheless, a large protest took place in front of the United Nations office in Beijing on Friday, international Human Rights Day and also the two-year anniversary since Liu published "Charter 08."
Amid Chinese pressure on countries not to attend Friday's ceremony, Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad told AFP early Friday that the list of absentees had dwindledg to under 20 while more than 40 countries were expected to attend.
In addition to China, the official list of absentees was made up of Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam and the Palestinian Authoritiy.
And Despite Beijing's best efforts, world leaders and foreign parliaments continue to laud Liu's achievements while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had to defend himself against charges by human rights groups that he had not raised Liu's case with China's President Hu Jintao on a visit to Beijing last month.
At home, Chinese media have largely shied away from covering this year's Nobel Peace Prize, while Beijing has cracked down on dissidents and worked hard to block its critics from travelling to Oslo.
A number of Chinese dissidents living in exile have nonetheless made the trip.
In addition to placing an empty chair on the podium to represent Liu, he will be remembered with a photograph and one of his texts read by Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann.
He will receive his gold medal, Nobel diploma and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (1.1 million euros, 1.5 million dollars) at a later date.
The laureates of the Nobel prizes for chemistry, physics, literature and economics will collect their awards at a separate ceremony in Stockholm later Friday.
Last Updated (Friday, 10 December 2010 14:54)