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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
French strike kills Avignon festival
French protesters
Striking actors have staged street protests
France's premier cultural festival, in Avignon, has been cancelled because of a strike by arts workers.

A sister event in nearby Aix-en-Provence, dedicated to opera, has also been scrapped.

The level of protests over plans to cut performers' unemployment benefits made it impossible to go ahead, organisers of the events said.

The Avignon Festival, which draws tens of thousands of people a year, had been due to start on Monday.

The festival closes with death in the soul
Bernard Faiver d'Arcier
Festival director
Organisers had hoped to salvage some of the schedule after the opening days were cancelled.

Those hopes were dashed early on Thursday, when actors voted to continue their strike, dealing a fatal blow to the event.

"It's not possible to organise a festival under the pressure of a strike that is renewable from day to day," director Bernard Faiver d'Arcier said.

"The festival closes with death in the soul. Perhaps it is the end of an era - but not the end of the festival."

Mock crucifixion during protest in Avignon

The cancellation of the Aix-en-Provence festival came after protestors threw firecrackers and chanted during an opera on Wednesday.

"I am not staging a festival under police protection," director Stephane Lissner told France 2 television.

"I tried to reason with them. But they weren't listening. The fall-out is enormous, not only for the 600 artists who have been working for months."

The dispute has already caused the cancellation of a string of events across the country.

On Wednesday, Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon described the actors as "irresponsible" as the government vowed to press on with the benefit cuts.

The dispute centres on proposals that would mean artistic workers - who often work sporadically - would put in more hours in order to claim unemployment benefits when they were out of work.

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