Anti-nuclear group receives Nobel Prize as NKorea crisis escalates

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Oslo (AFP)

The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Sunday to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Oslo, as its representatives warn of "an urgent threat" over US-North Korea tensions.

"We are facing a clear choice right now: the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us," ICAN head Beatrice Fihn told a news conference in Oslo on Saturday.

As a coalition of hundreds of NGOs around the world, ICAN has worked for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, adopted in July by 122 countries. Although historic, this text is weakened by the absence of the nine nuclear powers among the signatories.

Only three countries, the Holy See, Guyana and Thailand, have so far ratified the treaty, which requires 50 ratifications to come into force.

- Western distrust -

In an apparent snub of the ICAN-backed treaty, the three western nuclear powers -- the US, France and the UK -- will be represented by second-ranking diplomats rather than by their ambassadors at the ceremony, which is contrary to custom.

But several survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings, which killed more than 220,000 people 72 years ago, will attend the event starting at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) in the Oslo City Hall.

Calling tensions between the US President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un "an urgent threat", Fihn was alarmed by the risks of a new nuclear disaster.

"I would very strongly urge these two leaders to back down from this threat, stop threatening to use weapons of mass destruction to slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians, engage in diplomatic solutions and work for the elimination of nuclear weapons," Fihn said.

"These weapons do not make us safe. They are not a deterrent, they only spur other states to pursue their own nuclear weapons," she added.

Tensions have spiralled across the Korean peninsula where the belligerent North has ramped up the firing of missiles and nuclear testing as it exchanges threats with US President Donald Trump, who has ordered a military show of force.

US Senator Lindsey Graham last Sunday told CBS that each North Korean missile test brings the US "closer" to a war with the country.

- Never again -

Although the number of nuclear weapons on earth has dropped since the end of the Cold War, there are still around 15,000 atomic bombs on earth with more nations getting hold of them.

"The world is getting ... a more dangerous place to live," said Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow who, alongside Fihn, is to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN.

Thurlow, who now uses a wheelchair, was 13 years old when an atomic bomb exploded in her city on August 6, 1945.

Now an 85-year-old Canadian resident, Thurlow continues to campaign against weapons of mass destruction.

"This is unacceptable human suffering," she said. "No human being should ever experience what we experienced."

The Nobel prizes in literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and economics, will be awarded later on Sunday at a separate ceremony in Stockholm.

Each prize consists of a diploma, a gold medal and a cheque for 9 million Swedish kroner (900,000 euros).