Empty chair makes silent point about China's political prisoner

Clapping solemnly, dignitaries in Norway paid tribute to Nobel Peace Prize winner, imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with an empty chair.

Yesterday's ceremony was the first time in 74 years that the award was not handed over. In 1936, Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting his award

Liu could not collect the prestigious $1.4m (900,000) award in Oslo because he is in a Chinese prison.

China was infuriated when the 54-year-old literary critic won as he is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence on subversion charges for urging sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system.

In Beijing, both CNN and BBC TV went black at 8pm local time, exactly when the Oslo ceremony was taking place.

Beijing described the award as an attack on its political and legal system and has placed Liu's supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest to prevent anyone from picking up his prize.

Security outside Liu's apartment in Beijing was heavy on Thursday night and several dozen journalists were herded away by uniformed police to a cordoned-off area.

China also pressured foreign diplomats to stay away from the Nobel ceremony. Its emissaries did not attend as did others from Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.

However, at least 46 of the 65 countries with embassies in Oslo did accept invitations. Serbia, which had said it would stay away, announced at the last minute that it had changed its mind and did attend.

In Olso, about 2,000 schoolchildren gathered outside city hall in a display of appreciation for Liu, while some handed letters to the Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland, hoping that he could convey their greetings to the jailed laureate.

Mr Jagland said awarding the prize to Liu was not "a prize against China," and he urged Beijing that as a world power it "should become used to being debated and criticised".

Outside Parliament, the Norwegian-Chinese Association held a pro-China rally with a handful of people proclaiming the committee had made a mistake in awarding the prize to Liu.

The Nobel Peace prize can be collected only by the laureate or close family members.

Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov of the Soviet Union and Lech Walesa of Poland were able to have their wives collect the prizes for them.

Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's award was accepted by her 18-year-old son in 1991.

The ceremony was set to be followed by a torchlight parade yesterday through Oslo's streets and a banquet hosted by Norwegian King Harald and Queen Sonja.

In the Swedish capital Stockholm, the other Nobel laureates were to be honoured in a separate ceremony with winners in the fields of literature, physics, chemistry and economics set to receive their awards from Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, followed by another lavish dinner.

In Berlin, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out that yesterday was International Human Rights Day – adding that the German government would continue to press for Liu's release.

"It is fitting that, on just this day, in Liu Xiaobo a man is being honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize who has worked courageously for political freedom and human rights."

Germany "regrets that Liu Xiaobo was not allowed to take part personally in the award ceremony," he said.

Security agents target dissidents

Chinese security agents launched a wide-ranging clampdown on dissidents yesterday just hours before the award ceremony.

Several, including renowned artist Ai Weiwei and human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, were barred from leaving the country, apparently out of fear they might attend the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Others were removed from Beijing by security agents.

It is fitting that a man is being honoured who has worked courageously for political freedom