REFILE-China formally demands halt of bronze heads sale


June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 24, 2009 at 8:10 AM EDT

(Corrects name of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman to Ma
Zhaoxu, not Ma Chaoxu, in paragraph 4)

BEIJING, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The Chinese government formally
called on Tuesday for the cancellation of the auction of two
historic bronze sculptures claimed by China, after a previous
effort by a cultural group was rejected by a Paris court.

The sculptures, of a rat and a rabbit head, are part of an
art collection from the estate of French fashion designer Yves
Saint Laurent, which went on sale at a Christie's auction that
started in Paris on Monday.

China claims ownership of the heads as they were taken from
Beijing's Summer Palace when it was burnt down by invading
French and British forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War.

"The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has formally
informed the auctioneer of our strong opposition to the
auction, and clearly demanded its cancellation," Ma Zhaoxu,
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told a news conference.

APACE, an association representing Chinese cultural and
heritage interests, earlier filed an appeal to have the sale
blocked but it was turned down by the Tribunal de Grande
Instance in Paris.

Ma also scorned an offer by Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's
former business manager and companion, to exchange the
sculptures for promises to guarantee human rights and allow
exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, back into Tibet.

"Using the pretext of human rights to infringe on the
Chinese people's fundamental cultural rights is just
ridiculous," Ma said.

Interest in the case goes beyond the art world because of
the tensions between Paris and Beijing over French President
Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to meet the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing
considers a separatist.

Christie's values the sculptures at 8 to 10 million euros
each. Five of the original 12 heads are now in China.

(Reporting by Liu Zhen, editing by Lucy Hornby and Sugita

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