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Security tightens outside wife's home turned prison

The Nobel ceremony was greeted yesterday in China with a clampdown on dissidents and a blackout of international broadcasts as the government condemned the award as a conspiracy against the country.

Police stepped up patrols at sensitive areas in the capital and security was heavy outside Liu Xiaobo's home, where his wife Liu Xia is said to be under house arrest.

She was first detained in the flat on 8 October when the award was announced, and she and Mr Liu's brothers have been prevented from leaving the country. There was no sign of life at the windows of the flat. Several dozen journalists were herded by police to a cordoned-off area outside the home last night. Five police cars were stationed outside.

For weeks, Liu has been prevented from leaving, receiving visitors or communicating with the outside world, but security was visibly tighter yesterday. Her phone and internet connections have been cut off. Both CNN and BBC TV channels went black at 8 pm local time for nearly an hour, when the Oslo ceremony took place.

China reiterated its angry response to the decision to award the peace prize to Mr Liu, condemning the award as an "obscenity". Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: "We are firmly against attempts by any country or individual to use the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere in China's internal affairs and infringe on China's judicial sovereignty."

Mr Liu, the first Chinese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, dedicated the award to the "lost souls" of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. There was increased security around the area of the square where bloodshed ended the democratic dreams of many young Chinese.

Since then, China has become an economic superpower and the Communist Party has tightened its grip on power and attempts to keep a lid on the story have been partially successful. "Everything is different now since the revolt of 1989," said businesswoman Ma Junpeng. "People's ideas have changed. China has changed. People like Liu are irrelevant."

Police have in recent weeks clamped down on China's dissident community, with many key figures and allies of Mr Liu under house arrest or close surveillance, or warned to stay away from the city. Before being escorted to the southwestern province of Yunnan, Zhang Xianliang, the mother of a high school student killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, told The Associated Press she had been shadowed by four plainclothes agents who demanded she leave Beijing. "They have become crazy. This is unprecedented. I have never been so threatened in the past 20 years."

Artist Ai Weiwei, legal scholar He Weifang, China's famous criminal lawyer Mo Shaoping, and 80-year old economist Mao Yushi, were all banned from travelling abroad.

Gao Mingxuan, a Chinese criminal- law expert, told the state-run Xinhua news agency that Mr Liu's activities were aimed at inciting people to "subvert the legitimate state power of the people's democratic dictatorship that is under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and 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."