FRANCE

Louvre staff return after walkout in protest at pickpocket invasion

Tourists wait in vain outside famed museum as workers' anger over criminal gangs closes doors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 4:21pm
AFP

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Uniformed police yesterday patrolled the Louvre museum in Paris as it reopened its doors following a walkout by staff in protest at gangs of violent pickpockets targeting visitors.

Around 20 police officers have now been drafted in to patrol the museum in response to staff concerns, Louvre officials said.

The Louvre failed to open on Wednesday when around 200 employees refused to work saying the museum had become plagued by gangs of increasingly aggressive pickpockets, many of whom were children.

Herve Barbaret, the museum's administrator, said he wanted to see the pickpocket networks dismantled.

"The presence of the police is having a major deterrent effect," he said, adding that he hoped it would be maintained until the problem was resolved.

One member of staff said the pickpockets had in particular targeted Asian tourists.

A museum spokeswoman said this was because gangs saw Chinese tourists as likely to be carrying large amounts of cash.

Chinese visitors appeared to have taken heed of the warnings yesterday, with many carrying their backpacks on their chest.

But one employee said she was doubtful the extra security measures would be sufficient to deter the thieves and staff would not hesitate to go on strike again.

"If the Louvre does not manage to resolve this problem, it is going to create a serious image problem," she said.

Christelle Guyader of the SUD union said late on Wednesday that management had agreed to measures aimed at reinforcing the police presence.

Numerous staff had reported "spitting, insults, threats and being struck", by the pickpockets and had repeatedly reported the incidents, Guyader said.

Disappointed tourists earlier waited in vain in front of the museum, home to such works as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, which receives some 10 million visitors a year.

Staff said they had been spat at, insulted and hit by the pickpockets who would return to the museum again and again even after being ejected by police. Of the 1,000 staff members, some 470 are present on any one day.

The situation is a blow to the image of the French capital after incidents involving Chinese tourists. On March 20, a group was targeted at a restaurant north of Paris. Their guide was attacked and had a bag containing passports and cash was stolen.