China fury at Nobel 'clowns' as 19 nations shun Nobel award ceremony

China and 18 other countries have declined to attend this year's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

• Guards outside the flat where Liu's wife is under house arrest. Picture: AFP/Getty

The news, from Nobel officials, came as Beijing unleashed a surprisingly intemperate barrage deriding the decision. Officials in Beijing called Mr Liu's backers "clowns" in an anti-Chinese farce - comments that came only three days before Friday's ceremony in Oslo.

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Beijing considers Mr 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".

Mr Liu, 54, is serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges, brought after he co-authored a call for sweeping changes to China's one-party Communist system.

Countries that have turned down an invitation include Chinese allies Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba, its neighbours such as Russia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan, and business partners such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Other countries not appearing at the Oslo ceremony include Ukraine, Colombia, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Serbia and Morocco. But at least 44 of the 65 embassies that were invited have accepted the invitation, the prize committee said.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accused the Nobel committee of "orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves".

She said: "We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path."

The tough talk came even as the authorities were placing Mr Liu's supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest and stopping others such as lawyers, academics and activists from leaving the country - apparently to prevent them from travelling to Oslo.

So far, only one of about 140 Chinese activists invited by Mr Liu's wife to attend the ceremony has said he'll be able to make it - and he is not living in China.

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Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad said countries had given various reasons for not attending but "some of them are obviously affected by China".

He said the committee was pleased two-thirds of embassies had resisted Chinese pressure and accepted the invitation. "We are especially happy that important countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa are coming," he said.

Nobel officials said the peace prize would not be handed out on Friday because none of Mr Liu's family were able to attend.The $1.4 million (900,000) prize can be collected only by the laureate or close family members.

China is not the first nation to be rankled by a Nobel Peace Prize, but its clampdown means the Nobel medal and diploma won't be handed out for the first time since 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting the prize.

Even Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov, of Russia, and Lech Walesa, of Poland, were able to have their wives collect the prizes for them. Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's award was accepted by her 18-year-old son in 1991.

Ms Jiang's comments were the latest in a series of attacks against Mr Liu, the Nobel committee and other supporters. Beijing was enraged by the awarding of the prize to the democracy campaigner and literary critic, and one official has said Beijing believes Washington orchestrated the award to humiliate China.

An empty chair will symbolise that both Mr Liu and his family have been prevented by China from receiving the prize. "The empty chair will be the strongest argument for this year's prize," Mr Lundestad said.