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China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

January 24, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — China is swiftly building a hospital dedicated to treating patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities home to millions of people during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least eight cities with a total of about 25 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and seven of its neighbors in central China’s Hubei province: Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao.

The Wuhan government said Friday it was building a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the SARS epidemic. The hospital will be erected on a 25,000 square-meter lot and is slated for completion Feb. 3, municipal authorities said.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation. Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were canceled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. The Forbidden City, a major tourist destination in Beijing, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said Friday morning. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei. The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia. The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city, but scattered cases have occurred beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday, and cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms. The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak late last month were connected to a seafood market, and experts suspect transmission began from wild animals sold there. The market is closed for investigation. Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits. Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.

Puerto Rico opens only 20% of schools amid ongoing quakes

January 28, 2020

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico opened only 20% of its public schools on Tuesday following a strong earthquake that delayed the start of classes by nearly three weeks as fears linger over the safety of students.

Only 177 schools were certified to open after engineers inspected them for damage caused by the magnitude-6.4 earthquake that killed one person and damaged hundreds of homes on Jan. 7. But the inspections were not to determine whether a school could withstand another strong earthquake or had structural shortcomings such as short columns that make it vulnerable to collapse, further worrying parents.

“Of course I am afraid,” said 38-year-old Marién Santos, who attended an open house on Monday at her son’s Ramón Vilá Mayo high school in the suburb of Río Piedras where officials gave her a copy of the inspection report and evacuation plans.

Her concerns were echoed by the director of the school, Elisa Delgado. While she believes engineers did a thorough inspection of the school, built in the early 1900s, they warned her not to use the main entrance in an evacuation because it leads to an area filled with gas lines. The problem is that the other exits are too narrow to handle the school’s 450 students, she told The Associated Press.

“It’s not ideal,” she said. Overall, engineers have inspected 561 of the island’s 856 public schools, finding at least 50 too unsafe to reopen, leaving some 240,000 students out of school for now. Ongoing tremors also are forcing crews to automatically re-inspect schools following any quake of 3.0 magnitude or higher, according to Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure Financing Authority.

Since the 6.4 quake, there have been several strong aftershocks, including a 5.9 magnitude one that hit on Jan. 11 and a 5.0 that struck on Saturday. The biggest quake flattened the top two floors of a three-story school in the southern coastal city of Guánica on Jan. 7, two days before classes were scheduled to start.

Overall, experts say that some 500 public schools in Puerto Rico were built before 1987 and don’t meet new construction codes. A plan to retrofit all schools that need it, an estimated 756 buildings, would cost up to $2.5 billion, officials have said, noting those are preliminary figures.

Education Secretary Eligio Hernández noted that another 51 schools are scheduled to start classes on Feb. 3 and that his department is reviewing recommendations on how best to proceed with the other schools.

“The Department of Education is going to take the time it needs and will take all necessary actions so that parents … feel satisfied,” he told reporters on Monday. Elba Aponte, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers, told the AP that she has received complaints and pictures from parents and school employees of at least 10 schools that are reopening but that they feel are still unsafe.

Most of the pictures are of cracks in the walls and roofs of those schools, she said. “Their concerns are quite valid,” Aponte said, adding that she would share them with the island’s education secretary.

Meanwhile, school and government officials are trying to figure out what to do with the roughly 240,000 students who aren’t able to go to school yet, either because their building was deemed unsafe or has not yet been inspected. No schools in the island’s southern and southwest region will reopen for now, officials say.

Options include placing students in other schools with revised schedules or holding classes in refurbished trailers or outdoors under tarps, Aponte said as she lamented the situation. “It’s terrible,” she said. “If there was one place where they could feel safe, it was at school.”

Thunberg ‘a bit surprised’ to be Time ‘Person of the Year’

December 11, 2019

MADRID (AP) — Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg said she was surprised and honored Wednesday to learn she had been named Time’s youngest “Person of the Year,” saying the accolade deserved to be shared by others in the global movement she helped inspire.

The 16-year-old Swede has become the face of a new generation of activists, drawing large crowds with her appearances at protests and conferences over the past year and a half. Some have welcomed her activism, including her speeches challenging world leaders to do more to stop global warming. But others have criticized her sometimes combative tone.

“For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year,” the media franchise said on its website.

Leaving a U.N. climate conference in Madrid, Thunberg told The Associated Press she was “a bit surprised” at the recognition. “I could never have imagined anything like that happening,” she said in a phone interview.

“I’m of course, very grateful for that, very honored,” Thunberg said, but added that “it should be everyone in the Fridays for Future movement because what we have done, we have done together.” Thunberg said she was hopeful that the message being pushed by her and other activists — that governments need to drastically increase their efforts to combat climate change — is finally getting through.

But she insisted that the media should also pay attention to other activists, particularly indigenous people who she said “are hit hardest by the climate and environmental crisis,” and to the science around global warming.

“That is what I am trying to do, to use my platform to do,” she said. Thunberg said the movement, which has staged repeated worldwide protests attended by hundreds of thousands of people, had managed to spread awareness about the need to urgently reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and help those already affected by climate change.

“To get in a sense of urgency in the conversation that is very needed right now to be able to move forward,” she said. “That, I think, is our biggest success.” Asked whether she thought world leaders were beginning to respond to this message, Thunberg said: “They say they listen and they say they understand, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.”

“If they really would listen and understand then I think they need to prove that by translating that into action,” she added. She said the experience of the past 15 months, going from solo-protester outside the Swedish parliament to speaking in front of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, had changed her.

“I think life is much more meaningful now that I have something to do that has an impact,” she said. Thunberg has tried to preserve some privacy despite the relentless interest she’s received from media and adoring fans in recent months.

She was mobbed on her arrival in Madrid last week and the attention paid to her appearances at the climate conference has far outstripped that of other events, save for Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford.

“I would like to be left alone,” Thunberg said when asked about her plans for the next days. She will later travel home to Sweden, to spend Christmas with her family and dogs, she added. “After that, I have no school to return to until August because I’ve taken a gap year,” she said.

“I will probably continue a bit like now, travel around. And if I get invitations to come. And just try everything I can,” she added. Earlier Wednesday, Thunberg addressed negotiators at the U.N.’s annual climate talks, warning that “almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”

Last year’s Time winners included slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot to death; Philippine journalist Maria Ressa; and two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

Kiley Armstrong in New York contributed to this report.

‘End of history’? 30 years on, does that idea still hold up?

November 07, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Months before the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, with the Soviet stranglehold over the Eastern Bloc crumbling, a young political scientist named Francis Fukuyama made a declaration that quickly became famous. It was, he declared, “the end of history.”

But the heralded defeat of Communism didn’t usher in a lasting golden age for Western, capitalist-driven liberalism. Far from it. In the decades since, seismic events, movements and global patterns have shaped the 21st century into a splintered, perhaps more dangerous era than the Cold War.

The 9/11 attacks happened; the Iraq and Syria wars helped produce the bloody emergence of the Islamic State group and, later, a refugee crisis. The economy tanked in 2008. China became a superpower. Russia resurged. A new populism took root.

All have had a transcendent impact. History, it seemed, didn’t “end.” Today, Fukuyama acknowledges that some developments over the decades have disappointed him. He says his book wasn’t a prediction, but an acknowledgement that many more democracies were coming into existence.

Now the world is in a phase he didn’t anticipate. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Fukuyama took time to reflect on some of what he has seen — and what could still happen.

AFTER THE WALL

THE FIRST YEARS

With the passage of the decades, Fukuyama says, now “you have a whole generation of people who didn’t experience the Cold War or Communism.”

In those initial years after the wall came down, new countries were born and Germany reunified. But wars and conflicts also erupted after the Soviet Union collapsed and postcolonial debt-settling spiked.

Some of the 1990s’ bloodiest civil wars — Congo, Liberia — became footnotes to history. Rwanda endured a genocide that killed hundreds of thousands. Yugoslavia, ripped asunder by sustained violence, massacres and displacement, produced far more coverage and even new nations.

Western military intervention at the end of the 1990s blunted Serbia’s nationalism and unshackled Kosovo. A weakened Russia was in no position to help its traditional ally in Belgrade. But the global economy was generally strong.

Then came 9/11.

THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY

TECTONIC SHIFTS

Al-Qaida took terror to a never-before-seen level that was watched in real-time around the world. In response, the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban, which had hosted Osama bin Laden as he plotted against the West. Eighteen years later, the United States is still there.

The Iraq War was based on false intelligence that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, backed by the U.S. when he fought Iran, possessed weapons of mass destruction. Washington pushed a “you’re either with us or against us” global outreach that backfired in some places — most notably in Britain, where then-Prime Minister Tony Blair remains a political outcast to this day for following Bush.

Fukuyama was once aligned with neo-conservatives and supported the Iraq invasion, but later declared his opposition to the war. Now, he says the Iraq war undermined American policy around the world, while the 2008 financial crisis undercut the U.S. claim that it had established a good economic international order.

Says Fukuyama: “I think those two events paved the way for a lot of the populist backlash that we’re seeing now.”

POPULISM AND THE CULT OF PERSONALITY

Fukuyama says he’s dismayed so many voters could choose divisive populist leaders who lack a formula for governing democratically.

A marriage of populism and nationalism is a dominant dynamic now in many places — from Trump’s “America First” to Brexit, from Israel’s refusal to give up settlements in occupied Palestinian territory to India’s accelerated crackdown in disputed Kashmir and Turkey’s recent invasion of Syria.

Fukuyama says the populist leader’s playbook typically goes something like this: “I represent you, the people. You are pure and the elites are corrupt, and I need to eliminate them from our political system.”

But Fukuyama says he still believes that the checks and balances in democracies’ long-established institutions will continue to work.

Populism, he argues, isn’t conducive to good governance — or, necessarily, prosperity. “Launching a trade war … doesn’t seem like a very good idea for continued prosperity,” he says. “It could be that these types of movements will be self-limiting in the future.”

SYRIA, THE ISLAMIC STATE AND THE GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS

The ruinous civil war in Syria, in its ninth year, began with an uprising against President Bashar Assad as part of the ill-fated 2011 Arab Spring that deposed autocrats but replaced them with more dictatorship, war and chaos.

The Syrian conflict brought suffering of a monstrous magnitude: hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced and the rise of the barbaric Islamic State group, which at one point controlled vast swaths of both Syria and Iraq and carried out terror attacks across Europe.

A byproduct of IS’ rise was the global refugee crisis and the flight of persecuted millions on a scale not seen since World War II.

To Fukuyama, the rapid rise in migration produced cultural backlash and an anti-immigrant feeling that was exploited by “a lot of pretty opportunistic politicians who saw this as a big opportunity to mobilize new sources of support for themselves.”

THE RESURGENCE OF RUSSIA

The road from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to today’s powerful Russia has been messy and not without its initial humiliations for Moscow.

Boris Yeltsin’s years in power after Mikhail Gorbachev’s ouster as the last Soviet leader were characterized by a freewheeling approach to the free market which introduced kleptocracy, the selling off of state industries and the era of oligarchs, mafia and defeat in the first Chechnya war.

Then, on the stroke of the new millennium, Vladimir Putin came to power as a counterbalance to the Western liberalism he so often rails against.

On his watch, a second war with Chechnya killed thousands. Russia invaded Georgia and annexed Crimea from Ukraine after backing Russian separatists.

With fresh dominance in its own backyard, Russia began to look further afield, most notably meddling in the U.S. election, which some say helped Trump reach the White House.

In 2018, Putin — still in power, still a risk-taker — boasted of the development of new nuclear weapons that have no equivalent in the West. They came, he said, in response to U.S. withdrawal from a Cold War-era treaty banning missile defenses and U.S. efforts to develop a missile defense system. “No one has listened to us,” he said. “You listen to us now.”

Fukuyama says of Putin: He “has created a form of Russian nationalism that is dependent on empire, (on) his control of all of the countries surrounding Russia. He feels that he is basically at war with the West. This is a hangover from Soviet times because that is the world he grew up in.”

CHINA THE SUPERPOWER

China’s authoritarian grip on anything it perceives as its internal affairs, from mass detentions and abuse of Muslims in Xinjiang Province to its no-patience approach to Hong Kong protesters, continues unabated.

Beijing’s rise in the last three decades has redrawn the geopolitical map. Its financial clout, its attempts to extend its footprint with its Belt and Road Initiative and unresolved trade issues with the United States make it a wildcard more than ever.

Fukuyama says China’s increased wealth and power is upending the international system — no matter how that power is used. But, he notes, since Xi Jinping came to power, China has moved in “a much more authoritarian direction.”

The new landscape, he says, “has led to the current deterioration of U.S.-China relations. And I’m afraid that’s a situation that is going to persist even if you had a different (U.S.) administration in power.”

FROM 1989 TO 2019: THE BIG SWEEP

Looking back from today, Fukuyama still thinks the Berlin Wall’s fall was, on balance, a huge gain for human freedom.

One of the darker historical ironies of the past 30 years — primarily in Europe — has been the shift by once-communist states to the far right, in some cases embracing ideologies not far from fascism. But despite “worries about countries like Hungary and Poland,” Fukuyama believes they are still much better off than under a communist dictatorship.

Many people don’t quite understand how being part of the European Union, for example, has afforded them peace and stability that didn’t exist before.

Today, Fukuyama looks to other uprisings — protest movements in Hong Kong, Algeria and Sudan, for example — and says he holds out hope for a new moment when history might encounter another crossroads.

He calls it the “spirit of 1989.”

Prince Harry walks through Angola mine field, echoing Diana

September 27, 2019

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A body armor-wearing Prince Harry on Friday followed in the footsteps of his late mother, Princess Diana, whose walk through an active mine field in Angola years ago helped to lead to a global ban on the deadly weapons.

The prince walked through a dusty mine field marked with skull-and-crossbones warning signs, and was visiting the spot where Diana was famously photographed on a similar walk during her own Africa visit in 1997. That field in Huambo is now a busy street. The southern African nation is now years past a grinding civil war and hopes to be land mine-free by 2025, a goal of scores of countries around the world.

“Land mines are an unhealed scar of war,” Harry said in the town of Dirico. “By clearing the land mines we can help this community find peace, and with peace comes opportunity.” He said retracing his mother’s path was “quite emotional.”

Diana’s visit is still very much discussed today in Huambo after people were struck by her warmth and willingness to acknowledge their country’s devastating 27-year conflict, the Angola country director for mine-clearing organization The HALO Trust said.

“The main impact of Diana’s walk in 1997 was the level of global exposure it provided for land mines not only in Angola but the world,” Ralph Legg said. She was a great advocate for a land mine ban, and “her willingness to visit an actual mine field, to place herself right in that context, provided great impetus and gave it a great boost.”

The international ban on anti-personnel mines was signed that year and entered into force two years later. So far 164 countries have signed on. “More than 48 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed and 31 countries have been completely cleared of land mines,” The HALO Trust said, while production of the weapons has almost dried up.

Harry on his visit also remotely detonated a decades-old mine, met with mine-clearing teams and was visiting the orthopedic hospital his mother visited for her meetings with mine victims. “I think that will be a very poignant moment of coming full circle,” Legg said. “Very striking once people compare those images from the two visits to see how far Angola has come.”

The world, however, is hardly free of mines, and the prince said Angola itself still has more than 1,000 mine fields left to clear, 22 years after his mother’s visit. “I wonder if she was still alive whether that would still be the case,” Harry said. “I’m pretty sure she would have seen it through.”

Other countries that remain heavily mined include Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, and Afghanistan led the world with at least 2,300 casualties in 2017, according to the Landmine Monitor 2018 report.

“Myanmar was the only known instance of government forces actively planting the weapons” in the year-long period between October 2017 and 2018, the report said. “A staggering 60 million people around the world still live in fear and risk of land mines. We cannot turn our backs on them and leave a job half done,” Harry said.

Angola, which has committed a new $60 million for mine clearance, now hopes to turn some of its mine-free areas into sites for wildlife conservation and ecotourism. The prince was unveiling a project meant to protect wildlife corridors near the sprawling Okavango Delta, a rare inland delta in neighboring Botswana that doesn’t flow into a sea or ocean and is home to several endangered species.

Harry called on for international effort to help clear mines from the Okavango watershed in Angola. “Everyone who recognizes the priceless importance of safeguarding Africa’s most intact natural landscape should commit fully to this mission,” he said.

His first official family tour with his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and their baby, Archie, will continue with stops in Malawi and further events in South Africa with a focus on issues including mental health and women’s empowerment.

2 Nobel literature prizes to be awarded after 2018 scandal

October 10, 2019

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two Nobel Prizes in literature will be announced Thursday after the 2018 literature award was postponed following sex abuse allegations that rocked the Swedish Academy. The chemistry prize went Wednesday to three scientists for their work leading to the development of lithium-ion batteries. That was a day after the physics award was given to a Canadian-American and two Swiss, and on Monday the Physiology or Medicine award went to two Americans and one British scientist.

So far, nine Nobel prizes have been awarded this week and all the laureates are men. The coveted Nobel Peace Prize is Friday and the economics award on Monday. In March, the foundation behind the Nobel Prize in literature said the Swedish Academy had revamped itself and restored trust. The Nobel Foundation had warned that another group could be picked to award the prize if the academy didn’t improve its tarnished image.

The literature prize was canceled last year after a mass exodus at the exclusive Swedish Academy following sex abuse allegations. Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of a former academy member, was convicted last year of two rapes in 2011. Arnault allegedly also leaked the name of Nobel Prize literature winners seven times.

Among the favorites for the literature award are Canadian poet Anne Carson, novelists Maryse Condé of Guadeloupe, Can Xue of China and Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has been made into a hit TV series.

In his will, Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel specifically designated the Swedish Academy as the institution responsible for the Nobel Prize in literature. Other institutions in Sweden and Norway were given the task to find winners for the other Nobel Prizes.

Nobel decided the physics, chemistry and medicine should be awarded in Stockholm, and the peace prize in Oslo. His exact reasons for having an institution in Norway handing out the peace prize is unclear, but during his lifetime Sweden and Norway were joined in a union, which was dissolved in 1905.

Wednesday’s chemistry prize went to John B. Goodenough, a German-born engineering professor at the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Japan’s Akira Yoshino, of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University.

On Tuesday, Canadian-born James Peebles, 84, an emeritus professor at Princeton University, won the physics prize for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology together with Swiss scientists Michel Mayor, 77, and Didier Queloz, 53, both of the University of Geneva. The latter were honored for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a solar-type star, the Nobel committee said.

A day earlier, two Americans and one British scientist — Drs. William G. Kaelin Jr. of Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Gregg L. Semenza of Johns Hopkins University and Peter J. Ratcliffe at the Francis Crick Institute in Britain and Oxford University — won the prize for advances in physiology or medicine. They were cited for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.”

With the glory comes a 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma. The laureates receive them at an elegant ceremony on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896 — in Stockholm and in Oslo.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

Controversy stalks Nobel Peace, Literature prizes

October 06, 2019

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Controversy stalks the Nobel prizes for peace and literature in a way it rarely does for science. The revamped panel at the Swedish Academy who will hand out the Nobel Literature prizes Thursday for both 2018 and 2019 would relish arguments about the winners, rather than intrigue about the #MeToo scandal that forced the institution to suspend the prize last year.

And U.S. President Donald Trump has done his part to kindle intrigue about the 2019 Peace Prize winner, by simultaneously seeming to pitch himself for the prize while also slamming the Norwegian panel that awards it.

“Controversy is a natural effect of the Literature Prize,” says Mats Malm, the Swedish Academy’s new permanent secretary, appointed to head a reformed 18-person panel after two years of convulsions at the prestigious institution. “We want to contribute to the international discussion about literature and what it is supposed to be.”

The literary science professor is leading an overhaul of the body, which was ripped apart in late 2017 and 2018 by sex assaults involving Jean-Claude Arnault , the husband of a former academy member and a once-notable figure on Sweden’s cultural scene.

Arnault was convicted last year of two rapes in 2011 but not before accusations of abuse had led to an exodus of academy committee members, the ouster of then-Permanent Secretary Sara Danius and the absence of a Nobel Literature prize for the first time since 1943 at the height of World War II.

With a threat hanging from the Nobel Foundation — the body behind the Nobel Prizes — that the Swedish Academy could be stripped of its right to award the prize, the academy brought in five external members to help adjudicate the two literature awards this year. At the same time, it ousted everyone involved in the scandal and it “no longer includes any members who are subject to conflicts of interest or criminal investigations,” according to the foundation.

Across the border, the five-person Norwegian Nobel Institute that oversees the Peace Prize usually claims not to enjoy the controversy that accompanies its choices. But Geir Lundestad, the non-voting secretary of the committee from 1990 to 2014, says some members have traditionally thrived on the controversies that the high-profile prize inevitably brings.

“I am not sure the differences between the two committees are so big. The literature and peace prizes are more accessible to ordinary people than the prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry,” he says. “Some of the members enjoy the controversy that brings. It varies tremendously between members. But many recognize that some sort of controversy goes with the territory.”

The Nobel committees never announce the names of candidates and nominations are not revealed for 50 years. Lundestad was in charge when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to former U.S. President Barack Obama within months of his inauguration in 2009 — a prize that has attracted the ire of Trump, his successor.

Obama was there “for about 15 seconds” before he was awarded the prize, Trump told a press conference in February. Trump has been nominated for the Peace Prize by U.S congressmen for opening a dialogue with North Korea.

“I’ll probably never get it, but that’s OK,” Trump said. “They gave it to Obama. He didn’t even know what he got it for.” Second-guessing the thinking of the secretive panel is rarely fruitful, but the committee is not immune from the charms of U.S. presidents. As well as Obama, Theodore Roosevelt won it in 1906, Woodrow Wilson took the prize in 1920 and Jimmy Carter was chosen for the award in 2002.

However, a better signal for this year’s award might be former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who won the Peace Prize alongside the International Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Gore at the time was the face of the climate movement, a mantle now sitting on the slender shoulders of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden.

The teenage activist bolstered her profile last month, stepping onto the global stage at the U.N. to berate world leaders. “How dare you?” she kept saying to some of the world’s most powerful people, accusing them of ignoring the science behind climate change. “You are failing us.”

Last month, Thunberg won the Right Livelihood award, often called the “Alternative Nobel.” British bookmakers have Thunberg as the hot peace prize favorite this year, with Trump listed as a rank outsider behind several other world leaders, including two prime ministers, Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The panel could also choose to acknowledge the joint leadership of Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and North Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev. The two prime ministers put 30 years of acrimony between their neighboring countries behind them when they agreed that the former Yugoslav republic should officially be renamed from Macedonia to North Macedonia and Greece should drop its objections to its neighbor joining NATO.

On the literature side, the British website Nicer Odds has solved the dilemma of having two winners announced this year by only taking bets on the 2019 winner. Among the favorites are Canadian poet Anne Carson, novelists Maryse Conde of Guadeloupe and Can Xue of China and Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has been made into a hit TV series.

The Nobel week begins Monday with the awards for physiology or medicine. The Physics Prize is handed out Tuesday, chemistry the following day, this year’s double-header Literature Prizes will be awarded Thursday and the Peace Prize will be announced on Friday.

The economics prize — officially known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which is the only prize not created by the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite — will be awarded on Oct. 14.

Nobel’s reason for having an institution in Norway hand out the Peace Prize while others are awarded in Sweden is unclear, but during his lifetime the two Scandinavian countries were in a union, which was dissolved in 1905.

Nobel fame this year comes with a 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma. The laureates get them at elegant ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Sheila Norman-Culp in London contributed to this report.

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