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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Strike scuppers French festival opening
Avignon fears a loss in tourism revenue if the festival fails
The future of France's leading arts event, the Avignon festival, hangs in the balance after performers agreed to go on strike despite government concessions.

It was due to open on Tuesday, but its opening day was cancelled as performers voted on Monday night to stay away from the festival.

The dispute centres on government plans to change arts workers' unemployment benefits.

Performers voted to strike in defiance of culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who said the current system would stay in place until the end of the year, three months later than planned.

Artists and behind-the-scenes professionals across the country have already caused the cancellation of a string of events because of protests against the reform plans.

We cannot settle for crumbs from the government, which with its proposals wants only to put off the date of our death
Performers' spokesman
Avignon's festival is one of the most prestigious in Europe, drawing in about 100,000 people each year, and generating more than 15 million euros in revenue.

This year it is due to feature a show of performing horses in the courtyard of a mediaeval Papal palace, as well as a performance of Romeo and Juliet in Lithuanian, and As You Like It in Italian.

The theatre workers, who are calling themselves the Assembly of Performance Coordination Collectives, did not say whether they would walk out for the whole 20-day festival, but would discuss the issue on Tuesday evening.

"We cannot settle for crumbs from the government, which with its proposals wants only to put off the date of our death," a spokesman said.

Avignon's director, Bernard Faivre d'Arcier, said Tuesday had been called a strike day and ticket-holders would get refunds the following day.


French actors Renaud Castel, Blanche Veisberg, Sophie Vonlanthen and Yann Reuzeau in Four Dogs On A Bone
Performers in Avignon on Monday evening
At present, unemployment benefit is given to everyone who works in the arts - including buskers and comedians.

Currently, if they work 507 hours a year, they can claim for the rest. The government says there is too much scope for abuse - but the strikers say the new rules are an attempt to ruin the arts.

Under the new plans, artists will have to work for 507 hours over 10 and a half months to earn eight months of benefits.

The Aix-en-Provence opera festival, the Paris Opera and the Comedie Francaise have already been hit by strikes.

A dance festival in Montpellier, which usually draws 30,000 fans, has been called off while events in Marseille, Pau and Rennes have also been cancelled.

On Saturday, 1,000 people with a coffin filled with musical instruments, film reels and theatre masks marched through La Rochelle, where a film festival is being held.

Hope in French festival dispute
07 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
French festivals hit by strikes
30 Jun 03  |  Entertainment

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