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OSLO (Reuters) - Dissidents fighting for rights in China, Russia and other countries are among those tipped by experts and bookmakers to win the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize in the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The recipient of this year's peace prize will be announced on October 10 in the Norwegian capital from among a near record 197 nominees for what many consider to be one of the world's top accolades.
Academics, pundits and bookmakers speculate annually on who will win the prize worth $1.4 million. Their guesses are often widely off the mark since the secretive five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee does not disclose the names of the nominees.
"I think the most likely winner this year will be a Chinese dissident," said Stein Toennesson, director of Oslo's International Peace Research Institute.
"And I think the two most likely candidates are Gao Zhisheng or Hu Jia who are both in prison," said Toennesson.
Gao is a self-trained lawyer who has defended Chinese citizens, including members of the persecuted Falun Gong spiritual movement, against injustices.
Hu, a young democracy, environment and HIV/AIDS activist, has climbed into the top spot with some online bookmakers. He is tipped favorite at 7-to-4 odds by Irish Paddypower and at 5.50-to-1 on Malta-licensed Betsafe, which put Goa at 10-to-1.
But Toennesson said there was no overwhelming candidate. "There is no towering figure," he told Reuters.
Others tipped as possible laureates include Zimbabwe's prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai at 9 to 1 and the Cluster Munitions Coalition, which wants to ban cluster bombs, at 8-to-1 on Betsafe.
"2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so I think there will be a human rights prize this year," Toennesson said. The last peace prize for human rights work was in 2003 to Iran's Shirin Ebadi.
With the Beijing Olympics out of the way, a prize could go to a Chinese activist without worry of interfering with the Games, Toennesson added. The only peace prize linked to China was the 1989 award to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The Nobel Committee has sometimes been mindful of historical anniversaries, such as in honoring work for nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation in decennial anniversaries of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
The 1985 prize went to the U.S.-based International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the 1995 award was to British-naturalized nuclear scientist Joseph Rotblat and his Pugwash conferences. In 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director Mohamed ElBaradei shared the prize.
The prize has been given many times over the decades for human rights work, from the 1960 prize to South African anti-apartheid activist Albert Lutuli to Amnesty International in 1977 and to Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.
But one must look back to 1968 to find a prize linked to an anniversary of the adoption in 1948 by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It went that year to France's Rene Cassin, president of the European Court of Human Rights, an architect of the declaration.
Last year, the prize was shared by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations' panel on climate change, highlighting environmentalism as a path toward peace.
Janne Haaland Matlary, professor of international politics at Oslo University, agreed that a prize to a dissident for human rights work would be a logical choice this year.
Bookmakers also say Vietnamese dissident monk Thich Quang Do and Russian human rights lawyer Lydia Yusupova are other tips.