Awarding this year's Nobel Peace Prize, the head of the selection panel forecast that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would succumb to a wind of history blowing through the Arab world and be forced to accept democratic change.

Presenting the prize in Oslo to three women who include a Yemeni activist whose Arab spring protests helped undermine her country's veteran leader, Thorbjoern Jagland said: No dictator can in the long run find shelter from this wind of history.

It was this wind which led people to crawl up onto the Berlin Wall and tear it down. It is the wind that is now blowing in the Arab world.

Referring to 2011 Nobel laureate Tawakul Karman's efforts to unseat Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the bloody uprising in Syria, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said: Not even President Saleh was able, and President Assad in Syria will not be able, to resist the people's demand for freedom and human rights.

Suggesting Assad should want to be on the right side of history, Jagland added: The leaders in Yemen and Syria who murder their people to retain their own power should take note of the following: mankind's fight for freedom and human rights never stops.

Karman was in the Norwegian capital to share the prize with two Liberian women, newly re-elected president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and rights activist Leymah Gbowee.

The prize citation honours their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work.

Jagland said women's rights must be a key focus in the aftermath of change in North Africa and the Middle East, where Islamists have taken advantage of freer elections this year.

The promising Arab Spring will become a new winter if women are again left out, said Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister. Islam must be part of the solution.

Only then will there be democracy and peace developments in this part of the world.

The laureates, receiving the prize on the 115th anniversary of the death of benefactor Alfred Nobel, will share a total award worth $1.5 million.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)