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06-10-07, 10:14
Guessing over Nobel Prizes in high gear By DOUG MELLGREN, Associated Press Writer
Fri Oct 5, 4:06 PM ET



OSLO, Norway - Al Gore is a front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize — if you believe some experts. Problem is, they're only guessing.

The Nobel awards being announced next week cover the range of human endeavor, from peacemaking to scientific discovery to literature, yet share a tradition of mystery and wild speculation about who might win.

"I've been surprised almost every time," Stein Toennesson, director of the International Peace Research Institute-Oslo, told The Associated Press on Friday.

Toennesson's predictions about possible winners strongly influence media coverage and odds set by bookmakers, even though he has no inside information. Each year he bravely publishes a widely cited, well-reasoned, well-founded and — he admits — usually wrong set of surmises.

This year, with world attention fixed on global warming, Toennesson said giving a joint prize to Gore, the former U.S. vice president, and Inuit environmental activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier of Canada could be an appealing choice for the prize committee.

"It would have to do with climate change, and it would be a prize that included both a man and a woman," he said.

Another possibility would be to honor the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Toennesson said.

Others mentioned include Finnish peace mediator Martti Ahtisaari and activists like Lida Yusupova of Russia, Rebiya Kadeer in China and Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Do.

The peace award is announced in Oslo, while the other prizes — medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics — are announced in Stockholm. The prizes, established in the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, were first handed out in 1901.

Each award carries a cash prize of 10 million Swedish kronor, which this year is worth about $1.54 million.

The Swedish and Norwegian committees separately deciding the awards work in deep secret, refusing to even say who is nominated until the announcements, which begin Monday with the medicine prize in Stockholm.

"It's always fun if it comes as a surprise," said Hans Jornvall, secretary of the medicine prize committee. The final decision will be made Monday just before the announcement, he said.

For the literature award, British bookmaking firm Ladbrokes has Italian writer Claudio Magris Magris as the leading contender, ahead of Australian poet Les Murray. American novelist Philip Roth, whose name comes up in Nobel speculation every year, is third.

"I would like to see the prize go to an American this year. There are at least two who really deserve it: Cormac McCarthy, who got the Pulitzer Prize for his latest novel 'The Road,' and Philip Roth," said Jonas Axelsson at the Bonnier publishing house in Stockholm.

The three women and two men on the peace prize committee sometimes pick a complete outsider like last year's winner, Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank for pioneering the use of microcredit to spur creation of small businesses in poor nations.

"Sometimes we honor a well-known person, sometimes we use it to lift someone into the spotlight," said Geir Lundestad, the peace committee's nonvoting secretary.

Lundestad said the peace prize also has increasingly been used to underscore that many building blocks besides peace treaties and disarmament accords are needed to achieve peace, including protecting the environment, sharing resources and eliminating poverty.

Events riveting world attention just before the prize is announced — such as recent pro-democracy protests in Myanmar — are rarely honored, because the committee enforces a strict nomination deadline on the preceding Feb. 1.

In Gore's case, his high profile could be the greatest obstacle to winning the peace award, because he already has the world's attention on climate change.

"I have a feeling that climate change is appropriate (for a prize). I also have a feeling that it would not be Al Gore. He does not need it," said Dan Smith, a former director of Oslo's peace research institute. Smith said he could imagine the committee in Europe's far north honoring someone like Canada's Watt-Cloutier, because of their own concerns of melting ice and warmer winters.

"Of course," he added, "they often tend to buck the trends."

Smith said he doubted that Ahtisaari, the former Finnish prime minister, would win for his efforts to bring the sides together in Indonesia's Aceh province and Kosovo in Serbia because "they don't usually give it to a mediator."

The Nobel prizes are always presented to the winners on the Dec. 10 anniversary of the death of its creator.

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Associated Press writers Karl Ritter and Malin Rising in Stockholm, Sweden, contributed to this report.