Protesters Gather In Beijing Before Nobel Ceremony

Groups of protesters gathered outside the Norwegian Embassy and United Nations offices in Beijing on Friday -- hours before an imprisoned Chinese dissident was scheduled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. China has responded furiously since the Nobel committee announced on October 8 that Liu Xiaobo would be its peace prize winner. Officials have repeatedly called Liu a common criminal and declared the award a Western plot against China.

(CNN)

Groups of protesters gathered outside the Norwegian Embassy and United Nations offices in Beijing on Friday -- hours before an imprisoned Chinese dissident was scheduled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

China has responded furiously since the Nobel committee announced on October 8 that Liu Xiaobo would be its peace prize winner. Officials have repeatedly called Liu a common criminal and declared the award a Western plot against China.

The police presence outside the Norwegian Embassy in Beijing had increased early Friday. Officers also stopped a CNN crew from approaching Liu's house.

Protestors gathered yesterday outside the Chinese embassy in support of Nobel laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo in Oslo

Liu, a professor of literature, is serving an 11-year sentence in a Chinese prison for what the government called "inciting subversion of state power." He was not allowed to travel to Norway to accept the prize, nor was his wife, Liu Xia.

He will be represented by an empty chair at the Nobel ceremony, the second time such a symbol has been used in the event.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, said Thursday that the award is not a protest.

"It is a signal to China that it would be very important for China's future to combine economic development with political reforms and it is support for those people in China who are struggling for basic human rights," Jagland told reporters.

Beijing also put pressure on its allies and other countries not to attend the peace prize ceremony, and it hastily announced its own honor -- the Confucius Peace Prize, which was awarded Thursday to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan. That award was accepted by a 6-year-old girl on Lien's behalf. Lien did not know about the prize, his office said.

Amnesty International said it had received reports from "reliable sources" that Chinese diplomats in Norway have been pressuring Chinese residents into joining anti-Nobel demonstrations when the award ceremony is held Friday.

Workers in Oslo prepare an exhibition ahead of the prize giving

Jagland said the committee expected a "harsh reaction" from Beijing.

But "we are very glad to see that two-thirds of the nations that have embassies in Oslo will be attending the ceremony, and most of them are very big, very important countries," he added.

Among those attending is U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is part of the official delegation on behalf of Liu and his wife.

Of the 19 countries that declined to come to Friday's ceremony -- including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran -- Jagland said Thursday that two had reconsidered: Ukraine and the Philippines.

The ceremony will include songs by a children's choir -- a special request made by Liu through his wife, according to Lundestad. And Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann will read one of Liu's "most interesting and beautiful texts," Jagland said.

Once officials award the prize, Jagland predicted that keeping Liu, 54, in prison for the entirety of his 11-year sentence may prove impossible.

"The pressure from the outside world will be on China to release him. In today's world, it is totally impossible to close a country. We already know that a lot of Chinese know about the prize, and this is creating a huge pressure on China," Jagland said.

Several foreign news websites -- including CNN and BBC -- were blocked in mainland China Thursday and Friday. Broadcasts of CNN International are being blacked out intermittently, when news of the peace prize is reported.

CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz said most Chinese are likely not aware that Liu has been awarded the prestigious award.

"Whatever they may have read about him has been through official talking points and state commentary," he said.

The last time an empty chair was used to represent an absent winner was when German peace activist Carl von Ossietzky won the 1935 award, according to Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute. Ossietzky was under "protective custody" in Nazi Germany and could not come to accept the award in person, nor was he represented by anyone.

Three other Nobel peace laureates were also unable to attend their ceremonies for political reasons -- human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Polish trade union leader Lech Walesa, and Russian Cold War dissident Andrei Sakharov -- but spouses or other relatives accepted the awards on their behalf.

CNN