OSLO - Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono are among the bookmakers' tips to win the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, alongside more orthodox candidates like campaigners against nuclear arms or a peace broker for Indonesia.
Experts are divided about whether the secretive five-member committee would dare to broaden the scope of the $1.3 million award in 2005 to honor Geldof or Bono, who have campaigned for years to ease hunger and poverty in Africa.
Last year, the committee won both plaudits and brickbats for awarding the prize for the first time to an environmentalist, Kenya's Wangari Maathai, for leading a campaign to plant millions of trees across Africa.
After that mixed reception, guardians of what many view as the world's highest accolade may be reluctant to be innovative a second time. A total of 199 candidates have been nominated for the 2005 award, which can be split up to three ways.
"If the prize branches out to virtually anything that is trendy, it stands to lose the intent that (Swedish founder) Alfred Nobel had -- to prevent war," said Janne Haaland Matlary, a professor of political science at Oslo University.
"I think there are two acute problems in the world -- anti-terror work and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," she said.
On the 60th year of the 1945 US nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she and many experts say an obvious option is to honor efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Still, Bono and Geldof have risen from 66-1 to be third joint favorites at 7-1 on an Australian bookmakers' ranking in recent days after Stein Toennesson, a leading Norwegian prize commentator, placed them among his favorites.
ROCK AND ROLL
"If the committee wants to go further this year in widening its interpretation of peace, the prize could go to Bono or Geldof," said Toennesson, head of the Peace Research Institute, Oslo.
Top of the bookmakers' ranking is former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, at 4-1, for brokering a peace deal between Indonesia and Aceh rebels this year to end a three-decade conflict in which 15,000 people have died.
Then come US Senator Richard Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn, on 6.5-1, for their work to dismantle aging nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. The ranking broadly matches Toennesson's.
"Since the committee went quite far and were innovative with Maathai they would want to go a little bit back to a core Nobel theme," said Espen Barth Eide, a director at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
He said that his favorite was the UN nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei.
Candidates who campaign against nuclear arms include Nihon Hidankyo, a group of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or Senji Yamaguchi, a Nagasaki survivor. The 1995 and 1985 prizes also went to anti-nuclear themes.
Or the committee might honor a relief group, like Save the Children or Oxfam, for work after the Indian Ocean tsunami.
In deciding the prize, a problem is the vagueness of Nobel's 1895 will. It says the prize should go to the person who has done most for "fraternity between nations", for reducing armies or for holding peace congresses.
But the committee may be open to new ideas. The head of the committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, was instrumental in persuading ex-South African President Nelson Mandela to visit the Arctic city of Tromsoe in June for an anti-AIDS rock concert.
If the iconic Mandela sees rock music as a way of spreading the word about AIDS, why can't the Norwegian Nobel Committee follow suit with peace? "No comment," Mjoes said, adding: "We always use the will as our basis and have a holistic approach."