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Lawyers vow to halt auction of treasures
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Despite losing a bid in a Parisian court to stop two looted bronze sculptures from being auctioned at Christie's, Chinese lawyers pledged to continue their efforts to halt the sale.

"We are disappointed about the French court rule on Monday but we have to accept it," Li Xingfeng, one of the 81 Chinese lawyers that participated in the project, told XinhuaTuesday.

A motion was filed to the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris last Thursday, seeking an injunction to stop the auction at Christie's, by the plaintiff, the Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe (APACE).

The court ruling said the APACE was not entitled to file the motion because it did not have direct links with the two bronze sculptures.

The bronze rabbit and rat heads were among 12 animal head sculptures that formed the zodiacal clepsydra decorating the Calm Sea Pavilion in the Old Summer Palace of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795).

They were looted when the palace was burned down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The Global Aixinjueluo Family Clan, a civil society registered in Hong Kong, had agreed to be the plaintiff but it was also not qualified according to French laws. Aixinjueluo is the clan name of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty.

Since the motion for the injunction was rejected, the Chinese lawyers will "make every effort" to halt the auction at the Christie's, Li said. But he refused to elaborate on what they would do.

"If they were sold, we would start legal proceedings against the buyer," he added.

Ren Xiaohong, one of the lawyer group and representing the APACE in Paris, told Xinhua Monday that it was "of great significance" to file the lawsuit, even though the motion was rejected.

"We hope to arouse public attention in Europe over the fate of numerous Chinese works stolen in the past, to help keep those relics well protected and collected," she said.

The bronze sculptures became part of a collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and were put up for auction by his partner, Pierre Berge.

They are expected to fetch between 16 million and 20 million euros (20.8 million to 26 million U.S. dollars) at Wednesday's auction.

So far, five of the 12 bronze animal heads have been returned to China, while the whereabouts of five others are unknown.

Legal experts here voiced their concerns about the lawsuit.

"With full respect to their sincerity and patriotism, I think there is little chance of them winning the lawsuit," Wang Yunxia, a professor of cultural relics law at Renmin University in Beijing.

"So far, I haven't seen any international conventions or laws that could be applied to the relics dating back that far (to the Qing Dynasty)," she said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 24, 2009)

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