France seeks tougher sanctions on art vandals

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PARIS, Oct 8 (Reuters) France should impose tougher penalties on art vandals, Culture Minister Christine Albanel said today, after intruders broke into a Paris museum at the weekend and punched a hole in a prized Impressionist painting.

Five people forced their way into the Musee d'Orsay early yesterday and attacked ''Le Pont d'Argenteuil'' by Impressionist master Claude Monet, tearing a 10 cm hole in the canvas.

''It was a pure act of vandalism,'' Albanel told France Inter radio, adding that France should improve museum security and come down heavily on offenders.

''It would be good a thing to increase the sanctions for (people who vandalise) a church, a museum, a monument, because they are attacking our history,'' she said.

Albanel added that ''Le Pont d'Argenteuil'', which was painted in 1874, would be successfully restored.

A security camera showed the intruders breaking into a back door of the museum. An alarm was triggered and guards soon arrived, but the gang of five managed to flee after smashing the Impressionist masterpiece.

The attack happened during Paris's so-called ''Nuit Blanche'' -- an all-night arts festival that was particularly rowdy this year as it coincided with France's unexpected victory against the All Blacks in the rugby World Cup.

Officials said they believed the vandals had been drunk.

The attack followed a spate of other recent incidents that have rocked the art world in France.

Armed thieves marched into an open museum in the southern French city of Nice in August and stole four paintings by Impressionists Monet and Sisley, and Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder.

Last year a man with a hammer attacked a symbol of the anarchic Dada movement -- a ceramic urinal first exhibited by surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp in 1917.

A woman is due to go on trial this week for kissing a painting by the US artist Cy Twombly on show in Avignon, and leaving lipstick smudges on the canvas. The defendant has said her kiss was an act of love, not vandalism.

REUTERS ARB SSC1303

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