Nobel guessing game at fever pitch

The Nobel prize season opens Monday with the announcement of the Medicine Prize and but the field is still wide open for the prestigious Peace Prize.

The award committees remain tight-lipped about the nominees ahead of the announcements, and, as usual, speculation has reached fever pitch about possible laureates.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee said last week it had still not made its choice among the record 205 candidates this year. The winner is to be revealed in Oslo on October 9.

The committee will meet twice before Friday. "There are a lot of good candidates," the influential committee secretary, Geir Lundestad, told AFP.

The absence of a clear favourite has made the guessing game more complex than usual, but experts seem to be in agreement that the committee will probably select a "traditional" winner.

The statue of Alfred Nobel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where a week of Nobel announcements will begin on October 5.

In recent years, the committee has occasionally stretched the scope of the prize to include unconventional areas like environmentalism and the fight against climate change.

"The Nobel committee is under a certain amount of pressure to return to a classical interpretation of peace," the head of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Jan Egeland, told AFP.

Last year, the award went to Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland and conflict troubleshooter.

The names of US and French presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy are known to be on the list this year, as is French-Colombian ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt, but that is no indication they are well-placed to win.

Another person known to be on the list is Denis Mukwege, founder of the Panzi hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo which helps hundreds of thousands of women victims of sexual violence.

Efforts to wipe out cluster bombs, which cause particular damage to civilians, could also be honoured, with possible laureates seen as the Cluster Munitions Coalition or the humanitarian organisation Handicap International.

The Literature Prize will be announced by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on October 8 and literary circles have suggested it could go to a poet for the first time since 1996.

Sweden's Tomas Transtroemer and Syria's Adonis have thus been mentioned as possible winners, as has South Korea's Ko Un.

Last year, the prize went to French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

Some have speculated it could be time for a Spanish-language author to win, which has not happened since Octavio Paz won in 1990, so it could be time for Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, often mentioned as a possible Nobel winner, to finally clinch the prestigious distinction.

"A lot of people are saying it's time for a poet," Stefan Eklund, culture editor at Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, said.

Online betting site Ladbrokes meanwhile has Israeli author Amos Oz as the most likely winner with 4-to-1 odds.

Other writers who regularly pop up in the Nobel speculation are Canadian author Margaret Atwood, US novelists Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, and Algerian French-language writer Assia Djebar.

For the science prizes -- medicine, physics, chemistry and economics, to be announced October 5, 6, 7 and 12 respectively -- American researchers have dominated the list of winners in the post-war period.

The Nobel Prizes, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, were first awarded in 1901.

Debate has roiled in scientific circles in recent years about whether the science prizes are outdated, limited by the definition of science at the time of their creation.

Fields such as life sciences and environment are thus excluded, even though they are crucial aspects of our lives today.

Ten scientists and engineers recently wrote an open letter to the Nobel Foundation asking for the creation of new prizes to include these fields -- though it has in the past rejected such appeals.

Laureates receive 10 million Swedish kronor (1.42 million dollars, 980,000 euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

source AFP

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