Nobel season kicks off next week with Medicine Prize

The Nobel season opens Monday with the Medicine Prize and all eyes are fixed on the prestigious Peace Prize, won by US President Barack Obama last year in a jaw-dropping surprise.

Together with Literature, the Peace Prize is the most watched Nobel award, with honours also handed out annually for expectional work in medicine, physics, chemistry, and economics.

Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 after less than a year in office and as the United States was waging wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The pick triggered wide criticism of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

This year, it will go to a less controversial choice, said Kristian Berg Harpviken, the head of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, who earlier this year described Obama's pick as a "bombshell."

"My hunch is that it's quite likely the committee may be somewhat more traditional in its selection of a candidate than it was last year," he told reporters this week.

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.

Advocates of non-violence, disarmament, human rights and democracy are considered "traditional" bets.

The Peace Prize committee will have a record of 237 candidates to chose from this year, with Chinese dissidents and the founders of the Internet known to be on the list.

Berg Harpviken said he does not believe this year's award will go to a Chinese dissident, a move which Beijing warned against again this week.

He pointed instead to Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar, the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma radio and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Online betting website paddypower.com deemed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo gamblers' best bet with odds of 6 to 1.

It put Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at 8 to 1 and also gave 8 to 1 to Russian human rights group Memorial and its founding member Svetlana Gannushkina.

Odds for the founders of the Internet were at 9 to 1, ahead of Sima Samar's 12 to 1 chances.

The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo on October 8 and the Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Economics Prizes will be announced in Stockholm - the hometown of industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the prizes - on October 4, 5, 6, 7 and 11.

The Swedish Academy has kept mum as usual ahead of its announcement of the Literature prize, but literary circles have suggested it could go to a poet for the first time since 1996, and perhaps to a woman from Africa.

The continent was the theme of this year's Gothenburg book fair - a routine excursion for the academy - sparking speculation that Algerian poet Assia Djebar could win.

But Djebar writes in French, and her chances could be lowered by the fact a French-language author, Frenchman Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, won two years ago.

Last year, the prize went to Germany's Herta Mueller for her work inspired by her life under Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in Romania.

In poetry, the usual suspects are Tomas Transtroemer of Sweden, Syria's Adonis and South Korea's Ko Un.

Other writers who regularly figure among Nobel favorites are Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, US novelists Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates and Israel's Amos Oz.

The field is seen as wide open for the science prizes, which American researchers have dominated in the post-war period.

Americans cemented their domination last year with a record of 11 of the 13 laureates across all categories.

But 2009 broke with tradition in honouring a record number of women, with five women laureates, including a first time woman winner in Economics.

Laureates receive 10 million Swedish kronor (1.49 million dollars, 1.09 million euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

The Peace Prize will be handed out in Oslo on December 10.

Other Nobel laureates will pick up their prizes in Stockholm on the same day.

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