As China tightens its grip on dissidents at home, dignitaries in Norway celebrate this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, with an empty chair.
Friday's ceremony was the first time in 74 years the $1.4 million award was not handed over, because Liu is serving an 11-year sentence in China on subversion charges for urging sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system.
Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad said Liu will be represented "by an empty chair ... the strongest possible argument" for awarding it to him.
In Beijing, police stepped up patrols at key points on Friday, including Tiananmen Square, where witnesses say hundreds or thousands were killed when troops crushed reform protests, and Liu's apartment where his wife is believed to be under house arrest. Authorities tightened a clampdown on dissidents.
China has also pressured foreign diplomats to stay away from the Nobel ceremony.
China and 17 other countries have declined to attend. At least 46 of the 65 countries with embassies in Oslo accepted invitations. Serbia, which previously said it would stay away, announced Thursday it would now attend.
Some 1,000 guests, including ambassadors, royalty and other VIPs took their seats in Oslo's modernist City Hall for the two-hour ceremony, among them U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Ambassador Barry White. About 100 Chinese dissidents in exile and some activists from Hong Kong were also attending.
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.
The ceremony in Oslo will be followed by a torchlight parade through Oslo's streets and a banquet hosted by Norwegian King Harald and Queen Sonja.
On Thursday, about 100 protesters chanting "Freedom to Liu! Freedom for China!" marched to the Chinese Embassy in Oslo but were thwarted by police from delivering a petition with more than 100,000 signatures urging Liu's release from prison.
The Peace award, as often in the past, has stirred international diplomatic conflict, with China accusing the Committee of representing the interests of arrogant Western nations who seek to impose their ideas on an unreceptive world.
"Today in Norway's Oslo, there will be a farce staged: 'The Trial of China'," the popular Global Times, run by the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, said in an editorial.
"We can to a certain degree say that China with its 1.3 billion people is carrying mankind's fate on its shoulders," Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said in the text of a speech prepared for the ceremony before 1,000 guests in the richly decorated City Hall.
"If the country proves capable of developing a social market economy with full civil rights, this will have a huge favourable impact on the world. If not, there is a danger of social and economic crises arising in the country, with negative consequences for us all."
But the former literature professor saw cause for hope.
"I, filled with optimism, look forward to the advent of a future free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme."
Jagland said Chinese attempts to control the internet showed its weakness. "Information technology cannot be abolished. It will continue to open societies," he said.
"Liu has told his wife that he would like this year's Peace Prize to be dedicated to 'the lost souls from the 4th of June.' It is a pleasure for us to fulfil his wish."
Liu's fame overseas was lost, however, on most residents in Beijing, where memories of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters have faded..
"Everything is different now since the revolt of 1989. People's ideas have changed. China has changed," said businesswoman Ma Junpeng. "People like Liu are irrelevant."
Gao Mingxuan, a Chinese criminal law expert, told the state-run Xinhua news agency Liu's activities amounted to an attempt to overthrow the socialist system.
"If Chinese people do act according to his desire, the country will surely suffer from wars and conflicts, destroying the present peace which China has gained with great efforts."