Oslo: Supporters and opponents of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo mobilised Thursday on the eve of a ceremony in honour of the absent Nobel Peace Prize laureate that has enraged Beijing.
China has kept up a barrage of criticism of the award to Liu who will be unable to attend the ceremony, insisting that the vast majority of countries oppose the decision to hand the prize to a man it considers a criminal.
"Those people at the Nobel committee have to admit they are in the minority. The Chinese people and the overwhelming majority of people in the world oppose what they do," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing.
The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, insisted meanwhile that this year`s choice of peace prize winner was not "against" Beijing.
"This is not a prize against China. This is a prize honouring people in China," he told a press conference traditionally held by the laureate on the day before the annual peace prize ceremony.
Liu, 54, was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08, a bold petition calling for reform in one-party Communist-ruled China.
Jagland acknowledged that he and the rest of the five-member Nobel Committee "had expected harsh reactions from the Chinese authorities," but said he was pleased so many countries had come out in support of Liu.
"We are very glad that two-thirds of countries with embassies in Oslo will attend," he said in a packed Nobel Institute, already decked out for the Christmas season with wreaths and red bows and flowers.
Speaking of the empty chair that will represent this year`s absent prize winner, who remains in a Chinese prison, he said "it is a very strong symbol (that) shows how appropriate this prize was."
China has threatened "consequences" for countries that show their support for this year`s laureate, but Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad pointed out that 45 embassies had accepted invitations to the event, including two countries that had previously declined: Ukraine and the Philippines.
Besides China, 18 countries have declined to attend: Afghanistan, Algeria, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Lundestad also said "we believe that Argentina will not be coming, or at least will not be represented by the ambassador."
China fired a final salvo ahead of the ceremony on Thursday calling US lawmakers "arrogant" for a House of Representatives vote congratulating Liu on the award and calling for his immediate release.
Amnesty International meanwhile gathered around 100 protesters in front of the Chinese embassy in Oslo Thursday afternoon and attempted to hand over a petition in support of Liu.
However the large metal gate around the mission building remained closed and the all the windows were shuttered.
The head of Amnesty`s Norway chapter, John Peder Egenaes, told AFP that around 100,000 people, mainly from Europe and the United States, had signed the petition.
Not able to hand over the petition, the human rights group piled the masses of signed documents outside the embassy building to show how much support it had gathered for Liu.
Amnesty and the Nobel Institute have both meanwhile charged that Beijing was pressuring people of Chinese origin living in Oslo to protest against Liu.
"We know that the Chinese embassy has taken the initiative to organise counter-demonstrations and that it is putting pressure on the Chinese living in Oslo to participate," Egenaes said.
Neither Liu nor his wife, Liu Xia, who has been placed under house arrest since the prize was announced on October 8, will attend the ceremony.
Friday will thus mark 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 come 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.