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Liu Xiaobo, jailed in China, honored in absentia by Nobel committee

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An empty chair marks the absence of jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, at the Friday ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

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Police, who videoed the event but didn't intervene, far outnumbered slogan-chanting revelers, who marched through Hong Kong's throbbing central shopping and business district in the late evening to the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government, the nerve centre of China's power in the former British colony. A handful of young Chinese visiting from the mainland took part in the celebration.

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Earlier in the evening, several hundred people watched a live broadcast of the Nobel ceremony in Norway on a screen in a central Hong Kong park. It was the only public screening of the event held on Chinese territory.

Unlike mainland China and even nearby Macau, another former colony that is allowed more or less to run its own affairs, Hong Kong has a vibrant civil society and still regularly stages protests, albeit usually small, in defiance of Beijing.

Both the CNN and BBC television channels went blank in Beijing as the event began, and Chinese television news led programs with the latest economic figures and worries over inflation. Also, some text messages containing the words "Liu Xiaobo" and "Nobel prize" were being blocked from delivery.

Chinese Internet users tried to start an online campaign of support for Liu by changing their avatars either to yellow ribbons or empty chairs. One image being passed around online and via Twitter showed a black chair, in the shape of a human with arms and legs, and with handcuffs around the ankles.

Meanwhile, police in Beijing maintained a heavy presence outside the apartment compound of Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has had her telephone and Internet communications cut off for several weeks, since the announcement of the prize.

The government prohibited the Lius and their family members from leaving China to attend the ceremony, and barred other activists from traveling or even gathering at cafes or public places for fear that they would find a way to celebrate the occasion.

The crackdown triggered outrage and condemnation from around the world. It was the first time the award was not presented to either a laureate or a close family member since 1936, when Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist jailed by the Nazi regime, was honored. The absence of Liu and his family members also meant that the $1.4 million cash prize went uncollected.

China broke off trade talks with Norway after Liu's selection was announced in October. Foreign embassies in Norway were warned that if they sent representatives to the Nobel ceremony, they would risk unspoken diplomatic "consequences."

At least 15 countries - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Egypt, Sudan, Cuba and Morocco - said they would stay away.

But the government of Serbia, which had planned to boycott in order to maintain good relations with China, reversed itself Friday in the face of an outcry at home and from the European Union. Serbia, which is a candidate for E.U. membership, said it would send a human rights official - not a diplomat - to witness the event.

Liu was jailed after authoring Charter '08, a pro-democracy manifesto that was published Dec. 10, 2008 and has since been signed by more than 10,000 people inside and outside China.


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