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Capitals buzz with speculation about Nobel Peace Prize

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October 12, 2000 


OSLO (AP) - Speculation about who will win the Nobel Peace Prize is buzzing in Seoul about their president, in Tehran about their leader and in Helsinki about their Balkan peace broker.

Everywhere, it seems, but in Oslo, where the prize is being announced Friday.

"No clear favorite this year," grumbled the Norwegian news agency NTB, which - like the rest of the local media - is among the world's most avid Nobel watchers.

"There seems to be less speculation than usual (in the Norwegian media)," Geir Lundestad, the awards committee's nonvoting secretary, said Wednesday. He said the committee has apparently succeeded in keeping the secret, as usual.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the United Nations, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and Finland's former President Martti Ahtisaari have been tipped as hot prospects, often by their own nation's news media.

The breakthrough for the democratic opposition in Yugoslavia this month was probably too late to influence this year's prize, which was decided on Sept. 27.

The secretive five-member awards committee gives no hints and never releases the names of candidates, only the number - a record 150 this year.

Some names are known because those making the nomination announce their pick.

This year those include U.S. President Bill Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter for their individual wide-ranging peace efforts; former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell for his peace efforts in Northern Ireland; and former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for his Balkan peace efforts. Ahtisaari also was nominated for his efforts in the Balkans.

The prize could also go to an organizations, like last year's award to the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders.

Among the 35 organizations nominated this year are the United Nations and several of its agencies, the Salvation Army, and Human Rights Watch. A whole town, northern Albania's Kukes, was also nominated.

The prize, which includes a 9 million Swedish kronor (dlrs 915,000) cash prize, will be announced at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) Friday.

In Iran, the news media touted Khatami for "his efforts to implement the proposal of dialogue among civilizations."

In South Korea, hopefuls looked to Kim Dae-jung because South and North Korea have warmed to each other more in the last few months than in the previous decades.

The committee, which is appointed by but does not answer to Norway's parliament, starts working on the prize shortly after a Feb. 1 nomination deadline. It trims the list in a series of meetings and agrees on a winner.

Dan Smith, director of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, said his guess would be South Korea's president for easing tension and improving contact with North Korea.

"Worldwide, we are looking at peace processes that are limping and even dying. The only place there is a sense of a process that is new this year is South Korea," he said. "If they bless it with the peace prize it would make it more visible."

But he pointed out that the committee often seeks to nurture ongoing peace efforts by awarding the prize to both sides of a conflict, as was the case with the Middle East in 1994 and Northern Ireland in 1998.

That would mean including North Korean President Kim Jong Il, a dictator seen as "the head of a regime that systemically starves its people," Smith said.

If the committee wanted a millennium theme, Smith and others said it could be the United Nations as a symbol of global cooperation. For human rights, he suggested a Chinese dissident, like exiled pro-democracy activists Wei Jingsheng or Wang Dan.

So far, the Nobel prizes for medicine, economics, physics and chemistry in Stockholm, Sweden, where the literature prize will be announced Thursday.

The prizes, first given in 1901, are always presented on the Dec. 10 anniversary of the death of their creator, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, and the others in Stockholm.

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