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Paris art sale goes ahead despite Mexico protests

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Paris (AFP)

A controversial sale of pre-Columbian art went ahead in Paris on Wednesday despite calls from Mexico and UNESCO for it to be halted.

The Mexican government filed a formal complaint against the auction of 120 religious and cultural artefacts from several private collections, including sacred jewellery worn by a shaman and the figurine of a fertility goddess.

Mexico's ambassador to France Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo said they had also pressured the French authorities to intervene, with UNESCO confirming to AFP that it had also urged auctioneers Millon to postpone the sale.

Gomez Robledo had called a press conference to question the provenance of the pieces, warning some "could turn out to be imitations".

But Millon went ahead and defended the collectors' right to put the objects up for auction.

Last week it agreed to withdraw a pre-Hispanic artefact from neighbouring Guatemala from the sale.

Millon said the core of the auction was "part of the last French collections (of Pre-Columbian art) put together in the postwar period.

"It is remarkable in terms of its origin and prestige", adding that some of the pieces had featured in major exhibitions and in "indispensable works on Pre-Columbian art".

- 'This encourages pillage' -

But Mexico -- which has been increasingly vocal about protecting its indigenous heritage -- condemned the decision to press on.

"We regret that despite the efforts undertaken. we did not get the auction house to cancel the sale," said Gomez Robledo, shortly before the first objects went under the hammer at the Drouot auction house.

The works were expected to fetch between several hundred and 90,000 euros ($99,000).

He said the cancellation of the Paris sale would have been "a first step towards the restitution of authentic cultural property of Mexico."

"This type of trade encourages pillage, illegal trafficking and counterfeiting practised by organised transnational crime networks," the diplomat told reporters, lamenting that the artefacts were being treated as "simple objects of decoration".

Under the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico has stepped up efforts to reclaim its cultural heritage.

As well as calling for artworks to be returned, it has accused major fashion houses of cultural appropriation for lifting native designs for their clothes.

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