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French Museum Strike Set To End

June 8, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ France’s most prized museums and monuments were set to open their doors for the first time in 20 days after unions voted Tuesday to end a walkout that has frustrated tourists and hurt some businesses.

But the strike’s end came too late for American tourist Joyce Gun, who is returning to San Diego on Wednesday after a week in the French capital.

``We came especially to see the Orsay Museum and we have been crushed with disappointment,″ said Gun, 71, who had read for years about the museum’s collection of impressionist paintings.

The museums were to open Wednesday, but union leaders said they reserved the right to strike again at the end of the month if they aren’t satisfied with results of government budget negotiations.

Union leaders agreed to suspend the strike after talks with the Culture Ministry. The strike shut down the Orsay, the Louvre and the Picasso museums as well as monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Pantheon at a peak time in the tourist season.

Small business owners who depend on income from museum visitors said the strike has cut business in half, and tourism officials said they are worried it could leave permanent scars on the industry.

``People will go home now and say Paris didn’t live up to their expectations,″ said Jean-Francois Bonnet, assistant in the Paris city hall’s tourism office. ``Hotels, cafes and stores have suffered and our image will also be damaged.″

France’s museums lost the equivalent of $2.6 million during the walkout, the longest museum strike in French history, the Culture Ministry said.

The workers demanded more staff, especially security guards, and an end to a system of temporary contracts.

Business owners affected by the walkout showed little sympathy for the strikers.

``The strike has been catastrophic for us,″ said Guy Poujep, owner of the ``Les Deux Musees″ cafe across the street from the Orsay.

In the Carousel du Louvre underground mall, where shops sell everything from perfume to Mona Lisa replicas near the museum entrance, banners on the walls accused the striking museum workers of taking the country hostage.

Last week, subway employees also were on strike. Thousands of subway workers marched through Paris on Monday in honor of a colleague who died after confronting two peddlers illegally selling goods.

Although an autopsy showed that Eric Douet died of a ruptured aneurysm and not a beating, many Metro workers insisted that his death last week was due to violence at the hands of the peddlers.

``The museums were on strike and then the metros too. Who knows what’s next?″ said Valeria Lara, a tourist from Buenos Aires who was standing in front of the shuttered Orsay Museum. ``We are tired of it, so we’re going to Amsterdam tomorrow.″

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