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Portugal clears controversial Miro auction

A Portuguese court on Tuesday cleared the controversial sale of 85 paintings by Spanish master Joan Miro valued at over 36 million euros, just hours before they are due to go up for auction.

LISBON: A Portuguese court on Tuesday cleared the controversial sale of 85 paintings by Spanish master Joan Miro valued at over 36 million euros, just hours before they are due to go up for auction.

The decision came in spite of demands from Portugal's opposition Socialist party for a suspension of the sale, according to the Lusa news agency.

The artworks are set to go under the hammer at London auction house Christie's, which has valued the works at more than £30 million (over 36 million euros), a much-needed injection of funds for cash-strapped Portugal.

They form part of a major auction at Christie's on Tuesday and Wednesday which also features works by Picasso, Mondrian and Monet, and have been valued at over £200 million.

The Miro paintings became the property of the Portuguese state following the nationalisation of the BPN bank in 2008, after the bank veered towards collapse amid a series of scandals related to tax fraud and money laundering.

Christie's has described the paintings as one of the largest and most impressive Miro collections ever put on sale.

It includes one of Miro's most notable works, Women and Birds, which Christie's has valued at between £4 million and £7 million.

The sale has been met with fierce opposition by art lovers in Portugal and an Internet petition has already raised more than 8,800 signatures.

"The importance of Joan Miro in art history is absolutely incontestable and there is no collection in Portugal of this painter or any other from this era that has a comparable heritage or artistic value," a representative of the Socialist party said last month.

But the Portuguese government says the paintings are a low priority at a time when it is struggling to rein in its finances.

In May 2011, it agreed to a programme of strict fiscal discipline in exchange for an international bailout package worth 78 billion euros.

"Holding on to a collection of this size of a great 20th century Spanish painter is not a priority for Portugal," said Secretary of State for Culture Jorge Barreto Xavier.

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