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Philippine Nobel no-show a bid to save drug mules in China

MANILA, December 12, 2010 (AFP) - The Philippines did not send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in an attempt to encourage China to spare the lives of five of its nationals on death row, a government spokesman said Sunday.

President Benigno Aquino told a newspaper staying away from the ceremony to honour jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had been "in our national interest", a reference a government spokesman confirmed was to convicted Filipinos in China.

The comments in The Daily Inquirer were published the day after the Philippine press rounded on Manila's decision to apparently bow to Chinese pressure and turn down an invitation to the ceremony in Oslo.

"Our interest is to advance our citizens' needs first," the paper quoted the president as saying in an interview.

The daily said Aquino had written a letter to the Chinese government seeking clemency for five Filipinos sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

"It's in our national interest that we do not, at this time, send a representative to the Nobel award rites," he told the paper ahead of the ceremony.

Foreign department spokesman Eduardo Malaya confirmed that Aquino was referring specifically to a bid to obtain clemency for the five drugs mules.

Asked if Manila's boycott was an attempt to appease China and save the lives of the five, Malaya said: "The President's remark speaks for itself. That's the line," Malaya told AFP.

Chinese embassy spokesman Sun Yi confirmed Sunday that Aquino has written an appeal to Beijing over the Filipino death row inmates, but denied that the issue was linked to Manila's decision to skip the Nobel awards ceremony.

Manila's official reason for the no-show was a scheduling clash, but several top-level officials have admitted privately the Philippines wanted to appease China.

China reacted furiously to the decision by the Nobel Committee to award this year's honour to Liu, who was jailed for 11 years last December on subversion charges.

It repeatedly warned governments around the world that ties would be harmed if they attended the ceremony.

The decision to stay away from the Nobel ceremony came as the Philippines strives to mend diplomatic ties with Beijing after a botched operation on a hijacked bus that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead in August.

MySinchew 2010.12.12



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