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Praise and Skepticism Greet Obama Nobel Award

LONDON- A surprised world greeted the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama with a mixture of praise and skepticism on Friday.

In its announcement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee hailed Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg referred to Obama's work for peace and disarmament, saying: "This is a surprising, an exciting prize. It remains to be seen if he will succeed with reconciliation, peace and nuclear disarmament."

Afghanistan's Taliban mocked the award, saying it was absurd to give it to Obama when he had ordered 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year.

"The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won the 'Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians'," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency -- awarded the prize in 2005 -- said: "I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor. In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement: "The award of the prize to President Obama, leader of the most significant military power in the world, at the beginning of his mandate, is a reflection of the hopes he has raised globally with his vision of a world without nuclear weapons."

In the Middle East, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the award could be a good omen for peace in the region.

"We hope that he will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East and achieve Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders and establish an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital," he told Reuters

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told army radio he believed the award would enhance Obama's ability "to contribute to establishing regional peace in the Middle East and a settlement between us and the Palestinians that will bring security, prosperity and growth to all the peoples of the region."

The Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and opposes a peace treaty with Israel, was more skeptical.

"Unless real and deep-rooted change is made in American policy toward recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people I would think such a prize would be useless," Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, told reporters after Friday prayers.

REAL CHANGE

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Iraqi Sunni Muslim lawmaker, told Reuters: "I think he deserves this prize. Obama succeeded to make a real change in the policy of the United States -- a change from a policy that was exporting evil to the world to a policy exporting peace and stability to the world."

In Indonesia, Masdar Mas'udi, deputy head of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization Nahdatul Ulama, said: "I think it's a good thing. I think it's appropriate because he is the only American president who has reached out to us in peace. On the issues of race, religion, skin color, he has an open attitude."

In Pakistan, Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party, said: "It's a joke. How embarrassing for those who awarded it to him because he's done nothing for peace. What change has he brought in Iraq, the Middle East or Afghanistan?"

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, awarded the prize himself in 1984, hailed the award as "a magnificent endorsement for the first African American president in history."

Two other former recipients, Mikhail Gorbachev and Wangari Maathai, were among the first to offer their congratulations.

Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader awarded the prize in 1990, was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying: "In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported."

Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist who won in 2004, referred to Obama's mixed heritage of a Kenyan father and American mother, called it "another very encouraging event for Africa."

From Obama's ancestral village of Kogelo in western Kenya his uncle Said Obama told Reuters: "It is humbling for us as a family and we share in Barack's honor. We congratulate him."

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai, who had been among the favorites to win this year, said Obama was an extraordinary example.

"I wish to congratulate President Obama. I think he is a deserving candidate," he told Reuters during a visit to Spain.

Writing by Andrew Dobbie; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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