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October 10, 2009

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Peace prize to Obama comes as a surprise

UNITED States President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in a stunning decision designed to build momentum behind his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress cooperation rather than unilateralism.

Obama said he was surprised and deeply humbled by the honor and would travel to Oslo to accept the prize.

He did not see it "as a recognition of my own accomplishments," but as a recognition of goals he set for the US and the world.

"I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize," Obama said.

Rare interview

Many observers were shocked by the choice so early in the Obama presidency, which began less than two weeks before the February 1 nomination deadline and has yet to yield concrete achievements in peacemaking.

Some around the world objected to the choice of Obama, who still oversees wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has launched deadly counter-terror strikes in Pakistan and Somalia.

Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said the choice could be seen as an early vote of confidence in Obama intended to build global support for his policies.

They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the US role in combating climate change.

Aagot Valle, a lawmaker for the Socialist Left party who joined the committee this year, said she hoped the selection would be viewed as "support and a commitment for Obama."

"And I hope it will be an inspiration for all those that work with nuclear disarmament and disarmament," she said in a rare interview.

Members of the Nobel peace committee usually speak only through its chairman.

"He got the prize because he has been able to change the international climate," Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. "Some people say, and I understand it, isn't it premature? Too early? Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond -- all of us."

US Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele contended that Obama won the prize as a result of his "star power" rather than meaningful accomplishments.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, the 1983 prize winner, expressed doubts.

"So soon? Too early. He is only beginning to act," Walesa said.


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