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France's Louvre branching to Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates --France and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement Tuesday to open a branch of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi, despite criticism that the French government is peddling the country's artistic treasures.

Abu Dhabi officials want the Louvre to be one of five satellite art museums they hope to build on uninhabited Saadiyat Island, just off the city's Gulf-side corniche.

New York's Guggenheim museum also has signed on to build a franchise in the wealthy Gulf state.

Tuesday's deal was said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi will display works from its museum in Paris as well as from other museums in and around the French capital, including the Pompidou Centre, the Musee d'Orsay and the Versailles palace.

In Paris, protesters warned that French museums could be selling their souls by lending too many works to museums abroad and questioned whether the government is turning France's rich artistic heritage into a commercial brand.

"Museums are not for sale," stated an online petition signed by several prominent members of the French art scene.

French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and the head of Abu Dhabi's tourism authority, Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, signed the agreement, which provides for the construction of a 260,000-square-foot museum that will open in 2012.

"This is a major achievement in Abu Dhabi's vision to become a world-class destination bridging global cultures," Emirates president Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a statement.

French President Jacques Chirac sent a message, read out by de Vabres, saying that the Emirates had "sealed a partnership with the world's most visited and well-known museum."

Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be a white discus-shaped building with irregular-shaped windows in the roof.

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