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LONDON (Reuters) - British author Salman Rushdie won the "Best of the Booker" prize on Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of one of the world's most prestigious literary awards.
"Midnight's Children" won the Booker Prize in 1981, and the Indian-born writer was hot favorite to take the award decided by the public from a shortlist of six in an online poll.
The 61-year-old, whose 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses" outraged many Muslims and prompted death threats against him, also won the 25th anniversary Booker prize in 1993.
"I think it was an extraordinary shortlist and it was an honor to be on it," Rushdie said in a recorded message from the United States, where he is on a book tour.
His sons, Zafar and Milan, accepted a trophy in London on his behalf, and the author said it was apt that "my real children (are) accepting a prize for my imaginary children."
Milan, the youngest, added: "I'm really looking forward to reading it when I'm older. Well done Dad."
Victoria Glendinning, chair of the panel who drew up a shortlist, said the entries were dominated by themes of the end of empire and two world wars.
"These are the nettles we have been compelled to try and grasp," she told reporters.
But there was some criticism of the award, partly because the choice was narrowed to just six nominees.
"It's an artificial exercise, simply because the general public only got to pick from six of the previous winners," said Jonathan Ruppin, promotions manager at Foyles bookshop.
"Readers have not been able to vote for some of their most enduring favorites," he added, mentioning, among others, Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things" and Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day."
Around 8,000 people from around the world took part in the online poll, and Midnight's Children won 36 percent of votes.
At least half the voters were under 35, and the largest age group was 25-34, "a reflection of the ongoing interest in quality fiction amongst readers of all ages," organizers said.
Midnight's Children, an example of Rushdie's magical realist style, follows Saleem Sinai who is born on the stroke of midnight on the day of India's independence in 1947 and whose life loosely parallels the fortunes of his nascent country.
Some critics believe it is Rushdie's finest work, eclipsing subsequent novels including The Satanic Verses, for which he remains best known.
What was perceived to be the questioning of the tenets of Islam in The Satanic Verses led to book burnings and riots across the Muslim world culminating in a death edict against Rushdie by Iran's supreme religious leader.
The author was forced into hiding for nine years.
The other nominees included Nobel Prize winners J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, both born in South Africa.
The full list comprised Rushdie, Pat Barker (The Ghost Road), Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda), Coetzee (Disgrace), J.G. Farrell (The Siege of Krishnapur) and Gordimer (The Conservationist).
Both Coetzee and Carey have won the Booker Prize twice.
The Booker rewards the best novel each year by a writer from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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