French experts see "univeralism" in Arab Louvre
By Andrew Hammond
ABU DHABI (Reuters Life!) - A controversial branch of the Louvre museum which rights activists say is being built by exploited Asian labor will promote "universalism" and a new multi-cultural harmony, French curators say.
President Nicolas Sarkozy inaugurated construction of the Abu Dhabi Louvre -- due to open in 2013 -- at a ceremony during a visit this week where France pursued political and economic interests while opening a French naval base.
France is vying with the United States for lucrative contracts in developing the UAE's nuclear energy program.
But Sarkozy did not actually visit the Saadiyat Island where the Louvre branch will be. Last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the UAE of exploiting thousands of Asian workers hired to build museums and art galleries on the showcase island.
The UAE, where Asian blue-collar labor forms the largest group in the 4.5 million population, has denied the charges.
Dispensing huge oil revenues, it says it will ensure there is "model housing" so that workers who usually work long hours in the intense summer hear are not put up in shanty camps.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made light of the ruckus during the tour this week. "Do you believe that forced workers have started the work? Sarkozy will lay the first stone. He is the first slave," he joked to reporters.
A source close to Sarkozy said France was aware of the controversy over workers. "You all know well that we are not in charge of the construction of this building but of course we will ensure it will be done in full compliance with our values." Continued...