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Looted Chinese relics sold for €28 mln
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Two controversial ancient Chinese relics were auctioned off on Wednesday night for 14 million euros (17.92 million U.S. dollars) each by anonymous telephone bidders in Christie's sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge in the Grand Palace of Paris.

According to Christie's, they have received 8 phone calls for "enquiries" before the sale. After the auction was launched, the competition was only conducted between telephone bidders, with no one in the scene raised for a bid.

Christie's refused to disclose who were the bidders at a press conference afterward.

The bronze sculptures, a rat's head and a rabbit's head, were looted by invading Anglo-French expedition army in the 19th century, when the invaders burned down the royal garden of Yuanmingyuan in Beijing.

Li Huan, a Chinese student in France told Xinhua that the two bronzes are news for the French, but history for the Chinese. Earlier this night, some Chinese students in France voluntarily went to the Grand Palace, distributing sheets introducing the history of Yuanmingyuan and the Second Opium War in 1860.

"They should know more about the history. Although we failed in the lawsuit, justice will not fail," said Li.

The Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris ruled against stopping the sale of the two bronzes on Monday, and the Association for the protection of Chinese Art in Europe (APACE) was ordered to pay compensation to the defendant.

Ren Xiaohong, a lawyer for APACE, told Xinhua that it was "of great significance" to file the lawsuit. "We hope to arouse public attention in Europe on the fate of numerous Chinese works stolen in the past, to help keep those relics well protected and collected," Ren said.

"My heart sank when the court refused our appeal," said Bernard Gomez, president of APACE, adding that "I hope the bidders are Chinese, I hope the two relics could go home eventually."

Bernard Brizay, French historian and journalist, as well as the author of "1860: the Looting of the Summer Palace" told Xinhua after the two bronzes were sold that he could understand the Chinese feelings towards the two relics. He said, "the two bronzes should be returned to China, no matter who got the bids."

Brizay also scorned on the offer by Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent's partner. He used five "stupid" on Berge's words. " Combining the two relics with human rights and Tibet issues has no difference with blackmailing for ransom," he said.

The Chinese government formally called on Tuesday for the cancellation of the auction of the two bronzes. "The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has formally informed the auctioneer of our strong opposition to the auction, and clearly demanded its cancellation," said Ma Chaoxu, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in a press conference.

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

The two bronze sculptures are part of the art collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. So far, five of the 12 bronze animal fountainheads have been returned to China, while the whereabouts of five others are unknown.

(Xinhua News Agency February 26, 2009)

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