Bush, Pope Among Nobel Peace Nominees

OSLO, Norway (AP) - The Nobel Peace Prize awards committee reported a record 173 nominations for 2004, with known candidates including President Bush, jailed Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu and the pope.

Committee secretary Geir Lundestad said the preliminary list includes 129 individuals and 44 organizations, and is likely to be expanded when awards committee members forward their own nominations at their first meeting of the year on March 2.

Last year, there were 165 nominations, and the award went to lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win.

The committee accepts proposals postmarked by Feb. 1.

``This year, there are not that many new names,'' Lundestad said. ``But we see that as the prize becomes more global, the nominations also become more global.''

The five-member Norwegian awards committee keeps the names of nominees secret for 50 years, releasing only the number with no other information.

However, those nominating candidates often announce their choices, this year including Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for protecting world peace; the European Union; French President Jacques Chirac; former Czech President Vaclav Havel; Pope John Paul II; former U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei; Vanunu, for exposing his country's nuclear weapons program; Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya; and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn for their Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which is intended to dismantle nuclear weapons left over from the Soviet Union..

Lundestad said thousands of people, including member of any national legislature or government and many university professors, have nomination rights, so being proposed for the prize is no distinction in itself.

``It's easy to get nominated for the prize, but very hard to win,'' he said.

Lundestad said he had received thousands of e-mails protesting the nomination of Bush and Blair, for example.

``There is a common misunderstanding. The fact that someone is nominated is in no way a form of endorsement from the committee,'' Lundestad said.

Other likely, but not confirmed, nominations include the Salvation Army, South African Adurrazack Achmat and the Treatment Action Campaign for their work fighting HIV-AIDS, the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian activist group, Russian antiwar group Mothers in Black, and Italian charity The Community of Sant' Egidio

The award, which last year included a $1.4 million cash prize, will be announced in mid-October. It is always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of the prizes creator, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, and the other Nobel prizes are presented in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.