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More Trouble For The Louvre

The Louvre has reported that a pair of 18th-century candlesticks has disappeared from a museum storeroom - just days after the world's largest museum was criticized by state auditors for a lack of vigilance.

Museum officials said Tuesday that the pieces were reported missing from a storage room in December and, after an exhaustive search, the museum filed a police report on Jan. 21.

The 10-inch silver candleholders date to the late 18th century and are worth an estimated $26,000, the Louvre said.

The presumed theft would be the first at the Louvre since 1998, when a landscape by French painter Camille Corot was stolen from a gallery. The landscape, "The Sevres Road," valued at $1.3 million, was never recovered.

For years, the museum has complained that a lack of money for security has forced it to keep up to 20 percent of its collections closed to the public.

Some 6 million people visited the Louvre last year.

In a report released Thursday France's court of auditors said the Louvre, home to the world famous Mona Lisa, was inefficient because two-thirds of its 1,800 staff were public employees and it was forced to hand almost half of its earnings to the state.

Funds at the Paris museum were drained by its obligations to help finance other state-owned museums. State auditors chided the museum for mismanagement, waste and poor security. It said that some workers habitually take extra days off or go on coffee breaks that last for hours.

The report, by France's Cour des Comptes, also said the Louvre did not know how many works of art it had. "The museum is reduced to making a rough estimation" of about 400,000 works.

The audit covered the seven years since the Louvre was given semi-autonomy from the state in 1993, but its publication follows a difficult year for the top tourist attraction, which was hit by worker strife and lower visitor numbers in 2001.

Staffers staged sit-ins, chained up the gates and allowed visitors in for free in protest at new work legislation. The protests forced the museum to shut for 20 days and cost it some $2.6 million in lost ticket sales.

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