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Protesters demonstrate outside the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong on Friday demanding the release of jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. Chinese characters on the placard read: 'Congratulate Liu Xiaobo winning Nobel Peace Prize' and 'Respect the spirit of Nobel Peace Prize. Release Liu Xiaobo and all dissidents.' ((Bobby Yip/Reuters))

Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Liu is a 54-year-old literary critic and democracy activist who was awarded the prize for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said Friday.

The Chinese government reacted angrily to Liu's win. News of the prize was blacked out by Chinese state-owned media, and government censors blocked prize reports from the internet.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhao Shu said the decision to grant the award to "a criminal" is a violation of the spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize.

China called in Norway's envoy to the country to protest the award, while in Oslo, the Chinese ambassador met with a Norwegian Foreign Ministry official.

Both meetings were at China's request, and a Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Norway stressed that the award was independent of the government.

Last year's winner, U.S. President Barack Obama, called on China to quickly release Liu, noting the country has made big strides in economic reforms.

"But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected," Obama said in a statement.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his congratulations to Liu.

"I would hope the fact that he's now a Nobel Peace Prize winner would cause our friends in the Chinese government to look seriously at the issue of his release from prison," Harper said during a stop at the Alberta Centre for Advanced Microsystems and Nanotechnology Products in Edmonton.

In giving the prize to Liu, the Nobel committee said China has become a big economic and political power, and it is normal that big powers should face criticism.

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A photograph of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is held by his wife, Liu Xia, during an interview in Beijing.

"The country now has the world's second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened," committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.

"China's new status must entail increased responsibility," he said.

Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest, was not allowed to speak to reporters on Friday at their Beijing apartment. Via phone and the internet, she said she would deliver the news to her husband in person at his prison about 500 kilometres away.

"I believe that after the award, more people will put pressure on the Chinese side," Hong Kong Cable Television quoted a Twitter message from her.

Liu said she hoped to be allowed to go to Norway to pick up her husband's award if he is not allowed to go.

Liu Xiaobo was detained in December 2008, just days before the publication of what has turned out to be an explosive political document, Charter 08, which he co-wrote.

Charter 08 calls for an end to one-party rule and the introduction of democratic reforms in China. It was signed, via the internet, by thousands of people, some of them university professors and Communist Party officials.

On Christmas Day 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of subversion, making it the stiffest sentence handed down to a dissident.

"China's constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but locking Liu up was meant to send a message to anybody else wishing to articulate pro-democracy ideas," said CBC's Anthony Germain from Beijing following the announcement.

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A supporter of Liu Xiaobo chants slogans on Friday at the entrance of a residential compound where his wife, Liu Xia, lives in Beijing. ((Petar Kujundzic/Reuters) )

"Chinese officials lobbied the Nobel jury against awarding the prize to Liu, arguing China's relations with Norway would suffer," Germain reported.

The Chinese were similarly angered when the prize was awarded to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, 21 years ago.

The Nobel Prize carries a cash award of $1.5 million. With Liu behind bars, and his wife under house arrest, it is unclear if there is any chance he will be able to get to Oslo to pick up his prize, or collect his money.

With files from The Associated Press