Serbia on Friday reversed its boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo after facing sharp criticism from the EU and human rights activists at home.

The government said it is sending its envoy, Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, to the ceremony “in response to the expectations” of the Serbian public.

Serbia earlier had said it would turn down the invitation from the Nobel committee in favour of maintaining good relations with China.

The choice of Mr. Jankovic, who is a human rights official and not a diplomat, appeared to be a face-saving formula and an attempt not to anger China while still having a Serbian representative at the ceremony.

“Jankovic is the best choice,” said Human Rights Minister Svetozar Ciplic. “We had to find a compromise solution.”

“We had to affirm our relation with China and respond to Serbia’s interests with regard to the European Union,” he added.

European Union officials sharply criticized Serbia’s boycott announcement earlier this week, expressing shock that Serbia, a candidate for EU entry, would meet China’s demands.

Seventeen other countries, including Russia and Pakistan, have announced a boycott. Serbia and Ukraine were the only European countries planning to stay away.

Serbia considers China an important ally because Beijing has supported Belgrade in opposing the 2008 independence declaration of its former province of Kosovo. China is also an important economic partner for the troubled Balkan country.

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