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Former Finnish President Receives Nobel Peace Prize

Martti Ahtisaari in Oslo
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has received the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize for his three decades of peace mediation work around the globe.

In his acceptance speech at a ceremony in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, Ahtisaari said all conflicts could be resolved.

"If we work together, we can find solutions. We should not accept any excuses from those in power," he said. "Peace is a question of will."

Ahtisaari urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to give "high priority" to settling the Middle East conflict, calling it the "most challenging peace-building project."

"The European Union, Russia, and the UN must also be seriously committed so that a solution can be found to the crises stretching from Israel and Palestine to Iraq and Iran," Ahtisaari said. "If we want to achieve lasting results, we must look at the whole region."

The 71-year-old former Finnish president said religions are peace-loving and can be a constructive force in solving conflicts, including in the Middle East.

He also warned that the global financial crisis would strike hard at the developing world, and called on governments to not cut back on foreign aid.

"If the present trend continues, we will be faced with a situation where hundreds of millions of young people will be out of work in countries that are in early stages of development," Ahtisaari said.

"If nothing is done, we will be creating an effective breeding ground for crime, instability, and war as young people lose all hope," he added. "I believe that the fight against poverty is also the most effective measure of countering terrorism in the long term."

Before handing over the Nobel gold medal and diploma to Ahtisaari, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said, "The scale and scope of Ahtisaari's activities are almost beyond belief."

Ahtisaari joined Finland's Foreign Ministry in 1965 and served as Finland's president from 1994 to 2000.

As UN special representative for Namibia, Ahtisaari helped guide the country to peaceful independence from South Africa in 1990.

In 2005, he mediated reconciliation between Indonesia and rebels in the Aceh region to end 30 years of fighting that killed some 15,000 people.

Earlier this year, Ahtisaari's mediation of Kosovo's status helped the Serbian province achieve independence.

Speaking on December 9 at a news conference in Oslo, the veteran peace broker said Kosovo's independence was "irreversible," despite continued strong opposition from Belgrade and Moscow.

He also said he was pleased that more than 50 states have recognized Kosovo's independence and he called on others that have not, to do so.

On Afghanistan, Ahtisaari said reinforcing the NATO mission in the country only made sense if it improved the chances of starting talks on a settlement.

with agency reports