France wants common line on Nobel ceremony invite

France wants common line on Nobel ceremony invite

Paris: France said Monday it was consulting its European neighbours about China’s call for them to avoid attending the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

“France is consulting with its European friends so there can be a common response," foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said on RTL radio on Monday.

“I think it will be a common and positive" response to the invitation to the ceremony, Kouchner added. “A European-wide response would be much stronger."

China was enraged by the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the peace prize to Liu, a writer and rights activist. Liu will not attend the prizegiving as he is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion.

Diplomats from several countries said last week that China’s embassy in Oslo had sent letters to Western missions implicitly cautioning them not to attend the prize ceremony on 10 December in the Norwegian capital.

Chinese vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai warned on Friday that governments would have to “take responsibility for the consequences" if they backed Liu.

Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania said Friday they would not be intimidated by the warning and their ambassadors would attend the event.

Britain’s foreign ministry said its ambassador would attend. British Prime Minister David Cameron will be in China at the head of a business delegation when the ceremony takes place.

Germany meanwhile said it would be represented by the second in command at its embassy since the ambassador will be on “a long-planned trip."

France has not yet said whether it will attend. Its President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao last week for a state visit that yielded billions of euros (dollars) in trade and strengthened diplomatic ties.

Rights groups and political opponents criticised Sarkozy for not speaking out in support of Liu. Sarkozy told reporters he had raised the issue of human rights during their talks but gave no details.

Kouchner however told RTL he had talked about Liu with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

Kouchner “talked for an hour and a half about human rights... about all the problems, including that of the Nobel Prize winner," he said.