Page last updated at 17:43 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

China tries to stop Paris auction


Replicas of the sculptures are on display in Beijing

China has launched a legal bid to stop the sale of two 18th Century bronze statues at a Paris auction.

Beijing says the relics were looted 150 years ago and should be in a museum.

The sculptures - a rabbit's head and a rat's head - are part of a collection belonging to fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008.

The auctioneering house, Christie's, has not commented on China's demand. The bronzes are expected to sell for 10m euros (8.8m; $12.6m).

Chinese lawyer Liu Yang told the French news agency AFP that papers had been filed late on Thursday to pull the items from the sale.

"Yesterday we applied to the court in Paris for an injunction to stop the sale of the bronzes through our lawyer in Paris, we are now waiting for the reply from the court," Mr Liu said.

The Associated Press said judges would probably rule on the case on Monday morning, just hours before the auction is due to start.

'Offensive to China'

China says the animal heads were part of a collection of 12 looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 when it was sacked and burnt by French and British armies during the Second Opium War.

The animals represent the Chinese zodiac, and adorned a fountain built for the Emperor Qianglong.

China has managed to track down five of the other statues, which are now displayed in a Beijing museum.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said selling the two heads "offends the Chinese people and undermines their cultural rights".

Christie's has said that Yves Saint Laurent acquired the items legally and insisted earlier this month that the sale would go ahead.

The two bronzes are part of a three-day auction of hundreds of artworks belonging to the late designer - described as one of the best art collections in the world.

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