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Ban's mealy-mouthed statement on Liu's Nobel

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waded cautiously into the Nobel Peace Prize controversy, offering only indirect praise of China's jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo's achievement while crediting the Chinese govenrment with steadily improving its human rights record.

Ban's public statement contrasted sharply from Western leaders like President Barack Obama, who praised Liu "as an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means" and called for his release. Ban's more diplomatic approach to Beijing reflected the risks that confront the U.N. chief, who will need China's support if he hopes to win a second term as secretary general in 2011.

In a statement made on his behalf by his spokesman, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said "the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo of China is a recognition of the growing international consensus for improving human rights practices and culture around the world."

Ban noted the importance of human rights in the U.N.'s mission and then went on to highlight China's recent achievements, including advances in human rights. "Over the past years, China has achieved remarkable economic advances, lifted millions out of poverty, broadened political participation and steadily joined the international mainstream in its adherence to recognized human rights instruments and practices," according to his statement.

Ban concluded by expressing his "sincere hope that any differences on this decision will not detract from advancement of the human rights agenda globally or the high prestige and inspirational power of the Award." But there was no appeal to China to order Liu's release.

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