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Symposium Marks 100th Anniversary of Nobel Prize - 2001-12-07

More than 30 past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, for a three-day symposium on the conflicts of the 20th century and the challenges of the 21st. The gathering is part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Nobel Prize, to be capped Monday by the presentation of this year's award to the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan. Some of the glitter of the star-studded affair has been tarnished by last minute cancellations.

The Dalai Lama is here, along with notables such as Lech Walesa and Desmond Tutu. South Korean President Kim Dae jung delivered the keynote address, and, of course, Kofi Annan will be here to pick up this year's prize.

But many of the prominent Nobel laureates are missing. Mikhael Gorbachev, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Henry Kissinger, F.W. de Klerk and others all are absent for one reason or another.

The symposium on conflicts of the past 100 years was organized before the events of September 11, but in almost every respect, the recent terrorist acts in the United States have dominated the agenda.

In Norway, where police normally do not carry weapons, the meeting place is surrounded by heavily-armed guards. And almost every speech is filled with references to the terrorist acts.

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel told the gathering he saw one root cause for much of the evil that has been done over the past century. "What is the name of the danger? It has a name. It is fanaticism. If the 20th century was threatened by political and racist fanaticism, the 21st century begins with the threat of religious fanaticism again," he said.

Cora Weiss, president of the International Peace Bureau, which won the Nobel award in 1910, called on participants to draw up a new social contract that would bridge the gap between religions and cultures. "We need a contract that recognizes that, when one sixth of the world follows Muslim tradition, and whether it's democratic or anti-democratic, fundamentalist or not, it's essential that everyone close the gap, not of misunderstanding, but of no understanding between Islam and the other great religions of the world and its cultures," she said.

Among the groups most active in Oslo during this Nobel Prize anniversary celebration is Amnesty International, the former peace prize winner, which is helping to organize a public appeal for the release from house arrest of another laureate, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. That appeal will take the form of a public demonstration in Oslo's main square Saturday.

Amnesty International chairman, Colm O'Cuinachain, is trying to draw attention to the way many governments have curtailed civil liberties in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. "Specifically, we're talking about the introduction of legislation allowing states to arrest and detain suspects who they believe may be involved in terrorism, without recourse to courts, proper process of charging people, process of bringing them to trial and detaining them. We see that happen across range of countries as backlash against September 11 attacks," she said.

The three days of speeches in Oslo are being recorded for use in several ways, including a book and a television documentary. But will all the talk do any good? When reporters put that question to the Dalai Lama, he laughed and said, "How much good? It's difficult to say?"

The symposium will be followed on Monday by presentation of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan. The celebration ends Tuesday with an anniversary concert featuring Paul McCartney and several other world renowned artists.