Nobel peace prize doubts

2009-12-09 22:32

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Oslo - Controversy mounted on Wednesday over the choice of US President Barack Obama as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on the eve of the award ceremony in Oslo, as public opinion judged him unworthy of the prize.

Obama, scheduled to arrive in the Norwegian capital early on Thursday to receive the award just nine days after announcing a surge of 30 000 troops in Afghanistan, will accept the prize as a "war president," the White House said on Tuesday.

"We'll address directly the notion, I think, that many have wondered, which is the juxtaposition of the timing of the Nobel Peace Prize and his commitment to add more troops," Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

That juxtaposition is losing support in Norway for Obama as this year's choice for the distinguished award, an accolade that stunned the world and the laureate himself when it was announced on October 9.

Obama had moved into the White House less than nine months before the recognition, and as commander-in-chief of US troops was waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The surge in Afghanistan will bring the number of US troops in the war-torn country to 100 000, triple the amount stationed there before Obama took office.

Two months after the prize announcement, consensus appears to have emerged that the five people appointed by the Norwegian parliament to pick the laureate of the world's most revered peace award made a premature decision.

A December 1-6 Quinnipiac University survey of 2 313 registered voters published on Tuesday showed that by a wide margin of 66-26%, Americans think Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mixed feelings

And in Norway, whose capital is preparing to welcome Obama to give him the Nobel medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (around $1.4m) prize money, the award is also viewed with mixed feelings.

A poll conducted by the InFact institute and published on Wednesday in the daily Verdens Gang (VG) showed that just 35.9% of Norwegians thought Obama deserved the prize, down from 42.7% when the winner was announced in October.

Nearly as many, 33.5%, believe the 44th US president is unworthy of the award that has been handed out for over a century.

The awkward timing of Obama's announcement of troops for Afghanistan forced the Nobel Norwegian Committee to justify its choice again this week.

Geir Lundestad, secretary of the committee, said on Norwegian NRK radio that most US presidents face conflicts and wars - but the new mood in US foreign policy justified Obama's elevation.

The president had "put the accent on international cooperation, the United Nations, dialogue, negotiation, the struggle against climate change and disarmament," Lundestad said.

Obama will be in Oslo for a bit more than 24 hours to pick up the award that adds him to a list of laureates including Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Events related to the formal Nobel Peace Prize ceremony normally run over three days, but the president has shortened his visit and excluded the traditional lunch with the king and a Friday night concert in his honour.

Wednesday's InFact survey showed that a majority of Norwegians perceived his short programme and tight schedule as "impolite" snubs.

There will also be no traditional day-before press conference or lengthy CNN sit-down interview laureates usually grant - enabling him to avoid potentially embarrassing questions.

Yet some plan to make sure the prize attribution does not go unquestioned.

A number of peace and anti-nuclear weapons organisations have planned demonstrations on Thursday evening near the hotel where Obama will be staying.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  norway  |  nobel prize
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