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Old Summer Palace opposes auction of bronze heads
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Managers of Beijing's old Summer Palace said Tuesday they oppose the auctioning of its lost relics or buying back those looted by others, as its two imperial bronzes are scheduled to be auctioned in Paris.

But the administration has not decided whether to act as plaintiff in a lawsuit launched by Chinese lawyers to stop the auction.

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat heads once adorned the imperial summer resort Yuanmingyuan. They were looted when the palace was burnt down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The items, to be auctioned from Feb. 23 to 25, currently belong to the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and were put up for auction by the late fashion magnate's partner, Pierre Berge.

The looted relics should be returned to China. China has undoubted ownership to these relics, said a statement by the administration of the palace.

A team of 81 Chinese lawyers has written to Christie's to stop the sale of the two bronze relics.

"We will sue Pierre Berge if the auction giant Christie's puts the bronzes for auction," said Liu Yang, one of the lawyers. "The best plaintiff is the Yuanmingyuan Administration."

But the administration has not decided whether to be the plaintiff, said Zong Tianliang, the administration's director assistant.

"But we are closely concerned with the issue," he said.

Christie's Public Relations Officer in China, Chen Yan, said the proceeds from all items in the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge collection will go to charity. All the articles, including the two bronze sculptures, have legal documents showing that they are possessed by their keepers legally, she said.

The items were expected to fetch 8 million to 10 million euros (about 10.4 to 13 million U.S. dollars) each.

A signing campaign was launched in Jurong City, east China's Jiangsu Province, Tuesday as a protest against the auction.

"The relics belong to China. They must be returned to China for free," said the organizer Leng Beisheng, a headmaster of a local school. "The auction severely harms our feeling."

More than 700 tourists, residents and students have signed their names as opposition to the auction.

The campaign will be staged in Nanjing City, the provincial capital, and Yuanmingyuan.

The bronzes were once part of a fountain that displayed the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. Five of the bronze animal heads have already been returned to China, while the whereabouts of five others is unknown.

(Xinhua New Agency February 18, 2009)

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