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OSLO (Reuters) - Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is tipped to win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, according to a leading bookmaker, as the Nobel Committee seeks to restore its authority after criticism of the 2009 pick of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Nobel watchers say last year's decision to give Obama the prize less than nine months into his first term drew more criticism than the secretive Nobel Committee expected, which could favour a "safer" choice in 2010.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Oslo on October 8.
"I feel pretty certain that they (the Nobel committee) were surprised about how one-sided the criticism was," said Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the PRIO peace think-tank in Oslo.
Critics said Obama won the Nobel as a president at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, without substantial wins in foreign policy and after only spelling out his vision for a nuclear-free world, not yet implementing any of it.
"It certainly put them in a position where they have to be very attentive to the risks that another prize that is similarly criticised would pose to the very reputation of the Nobel Peace prize itself," Harpviken said.
Harpviken said he expects a "more traditional" prize this year but still given to someone "in the midst of a process where the Nobel can make a difference."
Vaclav Havel, a former Czech president and anti-communist dissident, said last week that the time was ripe for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to shine its powerful spotlight on China and give Liu what many consider the world's top accolade.
Liu, a poet and literature professor, is given 6-to-1 odds of winning the peace Nobel by bookmaker PaddyPower.com.
He is now serving an 11-year jail term for "inciting subversion of state power" -- after signing a 2008 manifesto calling for democratic reform in China.
"(Such a prize) would signal both to Liu and to the Chinese government that many inside China and around the world stand in solidarity with him, and his unwavering vision of freedom and human rights for the 1.3 billion people of China," said an open letter written by Havel and two former Czechoslovak dissidents.
China warned Norway that relations would be at risk if the Committee gave the prize to a Chinese dissident. It also strongly criticised Oslo after the 1989 prize went to Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Harpviken said that taking on the Asian superpower may be too bold a move for the Committee, and favours candidates such as Afghan women's rights campaigner Sima Samar or the Democratic Voice of Burma, a media group beaming its pro-democracy message into army-controlled Myanmar.
PaddyPower has Samar at 12 to 1, behind hopefuls such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the Memorial human rights group focussed on the former Soviet Union, and former U.N. human rights commissioner Mary Robinson (all at 8-1 odds).
Editing by Mark Heinrich