19 Countries to Skip Nobel Peace Prize Party

In this Oct. 23, 2009 file photo, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong hold pictures of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested after co-authoring a bold manifesto urging civil rights and political reform. Liu was sentence to 11 years in prison Dec. 24, 2009 despite international appeals for his release.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File
China and 18 other countries have declined to attend this year's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Nobel officials said Tuesday as China unleashed a new barrage deriding the decision.

Chinese officials in Beijing called Liu's backers "clowns" in an anti-Chinese farce - comments that came only three days before the Dec. 10 Nobel ceremony in Oslo.

Beijing considers Liu's recognition an attack on China's political and legal system, and says the country's policies will not be swayed by outside forces in what it calls "flagrant interference in China's sovereignty."

The Nobel committee said countries that have turned down an invitation to Friday's ceremony include China's allies - Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba - Chinese neighbors such as Russia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan, and Chinese business partners such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

At least 44 of the 65 embassies that were invited have accepted the invitation, the prize committee said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accused the Nobel committee of "orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves."

"We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path," she said.

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The tough talk came even as authorities were placing Liu's supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest and stopping numerous others such as lawyers, academics and activists from leaving the country - apparently to prevent them from traveling to Oslo for the award ceremony.

Jiang's comments were the latest in a series of furious attacks against Liu, the Nobel committee and other supporters. Beijing was enraged by the awarding of the prize to the 54-year-old democracy campaigner and literary critic and has sought to dissuade foreign diplomats from attending the award ceremony.

Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad said countries gave various reasons for not attending but "some of them are obviously affected by China." He said the committee was pleased that as many as two-thirds of embassies had accepted the invitation despite Chinese pressure.

"We are especially happy that important countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa are coming," Lundestad said.

Nobel officials have said the peace prize might not be handed out Friday because it's unlikely that any of Liu's family members will be able to attend. The prestigious $1.4 million award can be collected only by the laureate or close family members.

Liu is serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to the one-party communist political system known as Charter 08.

Jiang maintained there were more than 100 countries and international organizations opposed to awarding the prize to Liu, but refused to provide a list to reporters.

China has also put ties with Norway on ice in retaliation for the prize, with Jiang saying Norway should take "total responsibility." Senior foreign policy official Dai Bingguo has told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Beijing believes Washington orchestrated the award, ostensibly to humiliate China.

So far, only one of about 140 Chinese activists invited by Liu's wife, Liu Xia, to attend the ceremony has said he'll be able to make it, according to organizers - that he was not living in China. She has invited scores of activists and luminaries to attend, in an open letter posted online.

Lundestad declined comment on the Chinese criticism but said that this year's prize "is big and important" just like previous awards when laureates were prevented from coming.

"It reflects on the regimes," he said.

At this year's ceremony an empty chair will symbolize that both Liu and his family have been prevented by the Chinese regime from receiving the prize. "The empty chair will be the strongest argument for this year's prize," Lundestad said.

Other countries not attending Friday's ceremony at Oslo City Hall include Ukraine, Colombia, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Serbia and Morocco.

It is not unusual that a small number of countries do not attend the ceremony for various reasons. In 2008, when former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the peace prize, 10 embassies did not attend.