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Gazette Premium Content Egypt challenges sale of valuable ancient statue

Associated Press Updated: July 9, 2014 at 9:50 am

LONDON (AP) — Egypt is challenging a British museum's planned sale of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian statue that is expected to fetch up to 6 million pounds ($10 million) at a London auction.

Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told the BBC Wednesday that the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, 106 kilometers (66 miles) north of London, has no right to sell the statue.

"We are not asking for the statue to come back to Egypt but we are asking to stop the sale of the statue," he said. The position is endorsed by Mamdouh el-Damaty, the current antiquities minister.

The Northampton Borough Council owns the statue and says it wants to sell the work to fund an expansion of the museum, which claims to hold the world's largest historic shoe collection.

The plan is drawing some criticism at home as well. Alice Stevenson, curator at London's Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, said selling such a rare and unique statue undermines the purpose of a museum.

"It should not be used to plug a hole in a local council budget," she said.

Auction house Christie's, which is putting the statue up for sale Thursday, said in a statement that there are no grounds to postpone the sale.

Northampton Council said it will share 45 percent of proceeds with Lord Northampton, whose family acquired the item in Egypt in 1849 or 1850, and donated it to the Northampton museum in 1880. The Egyptian collection is small and is not central to the museum's purpose, a council spokeswoman said.

The 75 centimeter (30 inches) high limestone statue depicts an official named Sekhema with his wife, and is believed to come from the Royal Cemeteries at Saqqara, south of Giza.

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