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France mulls whether to attend Liu Xiaobo's Nobel ceremony (Updated)

The Christian Science Monitor reports that France is planning hold a meeting in Brussels to develop a common European policy on whether to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:

China's G20 negotiator Cui Tiankai last week said states that attend the award ceremony honoring Mr. Liu must be ready to "accept the consequences." Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence in China for "subversion" in co-authoring "Charter '08," a manifesto promoting basic human rights and political reform.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French RTL radio this morning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hu discussed human rights on top of signing $20 billion in trade deals. Mr. Kouchner added that, "I hope France will be represented at the prize-giving ceremony in spite of Beijing's warnings," but said France would be "consulting its European friends for a common response."

A French Foreign Ministry official separately told the Monitor that an upcoming meeting in Brussels will center on two questions: whether it is appropriate to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, and if so, "whether ambassadors should attend, or should it be at the level of charges d'affaires."

"We have weeks and weeks to decide this," the Foreign Ministry official said adding that a Brussels meeting is set to take place in coming days.

As countries who have hosted the Dalai Lama have learned, China is deadly serious about "the consequences" for these types of gestures. But to not attend the ceremony or to put on an awkward show of sending a lower-level official would be the definition of what Vaclav Havel referred to as "soiling one's pants prematurely." It would signal to the world that with Kouchner on his way out, Sarkozy's government has indeed given up on human rights entirely. 

Update: Good news. Looks like they're going. 

THIBAULT CAMUS/AFP/Getty Images

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Archbishop: Iraqi Christians face 'premeditated ethnic cleansing'

Life in Iraq isn't easy (and hasn't been for a while), but it's still rare to find community leaders imploring Iraqis to leave their home country. But that's exactly what Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church is doing.

"I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," Dawood said in a prepared statement to CNN. "This is better than having them killed one by one." In other interviews, Dawood, who lives in London, evoked the word "genocide" to describe the treatment of Iraqi Christians.

Fifty-eight people were killed in an attack on an Iraqi church last Sunday.

With the exception of the massive exodus of Iraq's large Jewish minority after the creation of Israel in 1948, there was little sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

"You know, everybody hates the Christian. Yes, during Saddam Hussein, we were living in peace -- nobody attacked us. We had human rights, we had protection from the government but now nobody protects us," the archbishop told the BBC. "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."

Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky wrote in Foreign Policy last week that there may not be a Christian population left in Iraq by the end of the century. Iran, which also has a (shrinking) Christian minority, is suffering the same fate.

But it isn't only from those countries that Middle Eastern Christians are leaving. Long-time Middle East journalist Robert Fisk pointed out last month (before the massacre in Baghdad) that Christian populations are shrinking across the region, from Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt. "This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold," Fisk writes. "Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided."

In Michigan, Iraqi Christians rallied today, calling on the United States to put a stop to violence against their coreligionists.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images