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The winner of the 1997 Nobel Literature prize, to be announced Thursday, will be decided by the smallest number of votes the Swedish Academy has ever cast.

Portuguese-language writers top the list of potential winners, with Jose Saramago and Antonio Lobo Antunes whispered as possible winners.

Internal feuding and death has shaken the august committee that awards the literary world's most coveted prize, leaving only 13 of the usual 18 members to choose a laureate, the Swedish news agency TT said.

A minimum of 12 votes are needed, according to a rule dating from 1901, the year the first prize was given.

No replacement has been appointed for Swedish poet Johannes Edfeldt, who died in August.

Writer Par Wastberg, chosen to replace Werner Aspenstrom, who also died, was not appointed in time to take part in the decision-making process.

Two other members, Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten, stopped attending the committee's weekly meetings in 1989 when academy secretary Sture Allen refused to denounce Iran's death edict against British novelist Salman Rushdie.

Last year literature professor Knut Ahnlund said he would boycott the deliberations and accused Allen of being power-hungry.

Apart from the Portuguese authors, Brazil's Jorge Amado, Belgium's Hugo Claus, the Netherlands' Cees Nooteboom, Albania's Ismail Kadare, Americans John Updike and Norman Mailer, Estonian Jaan Kross and Mexico's Carlos Fuentes are possible winners, experts say.

Names like Trinidad-born V.S. Naipaul, exiled Chinese poet Bei Dao and France's Nathalie Sarraute were also circulating among the literary elite in Stockholm.

Experts said the prize would probably go to a novelist because poets have won for the past two years -- Poland's Wislawa Szymborska in 1996 and Ireland's Seamus Heaney a year earlier.

Szymborska said she would like exiled Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa to succeed her.

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