The 2010 Nobel Prize for Peace was formally awarded to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in Oslo's city hall on Friday amid strong opposition from Beijing, with the absent dissident's medal and diploma placed ceremonially in an empty chair where he would have sat.
"We regret that the laureate cannot be present," Nobel committee leader Thorbjorn Jagland told around 1,000 guests at the ceremony, who included Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja.
"He is isolated in a prison in China," Jagland said, adding that the fact that neither Liu's wife Liu Xia nor other close relatives could attend showed the Nobel committee's decision was "necessary and appropriate."
Liu is currently serving an 11-year jail term for "subversion" in a prison in northeastern China, while Liu Xia and other relatives have been held under house arrest since the prize announcement on Oct. 8.
China has detained and imposed exit bans on large number of civil rights activists ahead of the ceremony, and had reportedly blocked major news websites, including those of the BBC and CNN.
However, some of Liu's supporters from China and overseas staged a protest on Thursday outside the Chinese embassy in Oslo, including Beijing-based AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, and supporters of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN.
"Free Liu Xiaobo and all political prisoners!" they chanted. Some carried a banner which read: "Xiaobo, we are proud of you!"
Amnesty International organized a candlelight parade to celebrate the Nobel Prize ceremony for Liu Xiaobo on Dec. 10 in the streets of Oslo, Norway.
Speaking his mind
Jagland slammed Liu's prison sentence, saying the former literature professor had only been exercising his civil rights and speaking his mind.
"He has not done anything wrong," Jagland said to thunderous applause. "He must be released."
Standing in front of a huge photo of Liu hanging over the main podium, Jagland recalled the last peace prize laureate not to be represented, German journalist and pacifist Carl
von Ossietzky, who was prevented from collecting the 1936 prize by his detention in one of Hitler's concentration camps.
"We congratulate Liu Xiaobo," he said. "Though none of the Nobel committee's members has ever met Liu, we feel that we know him."
"Practically overnight he became the very symbol ... for the nonviolent struggle for peace and human rights in China," Jagland said.
"We can say that Liu reminds us of Nelson Mandela."
Liu had told his wife that he would like his award to be dedicated to "the lost souls from the June 4 oppression," Jagland said, referring to the bloody crackdown on protests around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Chinese troops backed by tanks crushed the student-led protests, prompting global condemnation. Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand dead in the crackdown, but the government has never released an official casualty count.'LXB' in gold
Chairman of the Nobel Committee Thorbjoern Jagland speaks during the ceremony for Liu Xiaobo in Oslo, Dec. 10, 2010. AFP
Jagland placed the medal and blue-bound diploma engraved with the initials "LXB" in gold, on the empty chair, the image of which has already become the symbol of this year's award among Liu's supporters online.
Beijing has slammed the award as disrespectful to its legal system, and official media on Friday said China was being put on trial for not subscribing to Western values.
A Beijing group on Thursday rolled out its own peace prize, naming the first recipient as Taiwanese former vice-president Lien Chan.
"This is an important event both inside our country, and internationally," said Tan Changliu, chairman of the Confucius Prize committee and philosophy professor at the Beijing Normal University.
Lien's own office has denied knowledge of the award, but that did not stop the "prize jury" presenting it on his behalf to a pony-tailed young Chinese girl.
Two hours ahead of the Oslo event on Friday, the Nobel prize website sent a message via the microblogging service Twitter, saying that it was under a possible cyber attack.
"Nobelprize.org web site is down!" the tweet said. "We cannot rule out that this is a deliberate attack!"
However, a live webcast of the ceremony was visible on the site, and closely followed by Chinese netizens, who were relaying photos and tweets from bloggers at the scene under the keyword #emptychair.
"Liu Xiaobo maybe in solitary confinement & lonely, But he will now never be unknown or alone," tweeted user "mango_bongo."
User "damagethewall" wrote: "Xiaobo lights up the world!"
China's official media launched a series of reports critical of the ceremony on Friday.'A farce'
The popular Global Times tabloid, an offshoot of the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, called the ceremony a "farce" in an editorial, saying China was being put "on trial."
"Recently Western public opinion has not stopped cheering for the Nobel Committee, they are attempting to describe China's 'loss of face' and 'embarrassment,'" the paper said.
However, a Canada-based member of Liu's international legal team defended the award, saying that the dissident's empty chair at the Nobel ceremony served as a reminder of a lack of respect for personal freedom and human rights in China.
Jagland appeared to move to soothe Chinese anger in his speech on Friday, saying that the government should be given all due credit for lifting millions of people out of poverty.
But he said China now carried the fate of the world on its shoulders, and called for greater freedom of expression and debate to balance the abuse of power typical of authoritarian states.
"Democracy mobilizes new human and technological resources," he said, calling on Beijing to regard any criticism as an opportunity for improvement.
Liu was ordered jailed on Christmas Day last year for "incitement to subvert state power" after he co-authored "Charter 08," a controversial document calling for sweeping political change in China.Cut off
The road outside the couple's Beijing home was lined with police cars on Friday, with a large crowd of security personnel, journalists and would-be visitors for Liu Xia, who remains cut off from the outside world.
A cartoon about Liu drawn by Chinese netizens titled "Hope and Struggle" was circulating on the Internet, together with pictures of the award ceremony and pictures representing an empty chair.
And around 1,000 petitioners with complaints against the government gathered in a separate protest outside the United Nations representative office in Beijing to mark Human Rights Day.
"The police are detaining people left and right," said a petitioner from Liaoning surnamed Xu. "They have already taken away around 2,000 people."
And a petitioner surnamed Liu said some of the police were carrying guns. "There are some police here with guns, although most of them don't have them," he said.
"There are several hundred police here."
Of 65 countries with diplomatic ties with Norway, 46 sent representatives to the event, which will be followed by a lavish banquet attended by the Norwegian royal family.
China, Russia, Vietnam and the Philippines were among the 19 nations that declined invitations, with Serbia changing its mind and attending at the last minute in response to strong public pressure.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he "regretted" the fact that neither Liu nor his wife could attend the event, calling on Beijing to release the Nobel laureate.
"America respects the unique culture and traditions of different countries," Obama said in a statement on Friday.
"We respect China's extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want."
"But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law," he said.Distinquished
Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou called on Beijing to release Liu.
"[Taiwan] welcomes the Nobel award for Liu Xiaobo and calls on China to release him," Ma said. "Concern for human rights does not distinguish between nationalities and borders."
The award was criticized by Vietnam, Pakistan and Kenya, who accused the Nobel committee of interfering in China's internal affairs.
China declared that the "vast majority" of nations would boycott the event.
Both the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and House foreign affairs committee member Chris Smith were present, along with movie actor Denzel Washington and actress Anne Hathaway.
Veteran pro-democracy activist and former Czech President Vaclav Havel praised the role of the Nobel Committee in an open letter to Liu published in Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny.
"The hero of the day is not just you, but also those who awarded you," he wrote.Reported by Shen Hua, Xin Yu and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.