China to lead mass boycott of Nobel ceremony

China and 18 other countries will boycott this week's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in protest at the award going to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

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

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 had turned down an invitation to Friday's ceremony included China's allies -– Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba – Chinese neighbours 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.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry 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," a spokeswoman said.

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

The 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.

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," he said.

Nobel officials have said the peace prize might not be handed out on Friday because it is unlikely that any of Liu's family members will be able to attend.

The sought-after 1.4 million dollar (888,000) 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.

China has also frozen ties with Norway in retaliation for the prize, saying Norway should take "total responsibility".

So far, only one of about 140 Chinese activists invited by Liu's wife, Liu Xia, to attend the ceremony has said he will be able to make it, according to organisers – and he was not living in China.

She has invited scores of activists and luminaries to attend, in an open letter posted online.

At the ceremony an empty chair will symbolise that both Liu and his family have been prevented by the Chinese regime from receiving the prize.

The Nobel Foundation citation reads: "Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights."

It praised Mr Liu for his "long and non-violent struggle" and highlighted its belief in a "close connection between human rights and peace".