The head of the Nobel Institute says 19 countries have declined its invitation to its Peace Prize award ceremony on Friday, contradicting Chinese claims that a "majority" of countries support its call for a boycott of the event.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu denounced supporters of prize winner Liu Xiaobo as "a few clowns" at a regular briefing on Tuesday in Beijing. She said the "vast majority of the international community" will not attend the ceremony, adding that "more than 100 countries" support China's stand.
But the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, issued a statement saying that only 18 countries besides China have declined their invitations "for various reasons." Nobel director Geir Lundestad told the French news agency ((Agence France Presse)) that 44 countries have accepted.
It was not immediately clear how many countries received invitations.
Nobel officials said China has carried out an unprecedented campaign to discourage countries from sending representatives to the ceremony honoring Liu, a Chinese activist who is serving an 11-year jail term for advocating broad democratic reforms.
The organization identified the countries that have turned down their invitations as Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.
China has threatened "consequences" for countries that do attend the ceremony.