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Strike Threatens France's Famed Avignon Arts Festival - 2003-07-08


The Avignon Festival, France's most important performing arts event, has been postponed and may be canceled entirely because of a labor dispute. Performers and other theater workers are on strike over unemployment benefits. Organizers of the Avignon Festival decided to bring the curtain down on the opening scheduled for Tuesday.

Avignon is one of the leading performing arts festivals in the world. It normally attracts 100,000 people who spend more than $16 million each season. Many have paid for hotel rooms and are already in Avignon, but the opening has been delayed at least a day while theater workers decide whether to stay on strike and kill the entire 20-day festival.

The government is trying to make it harder for the theater workers to receive unemployment benefits. As of now all of them, from street buskers to comics to leading actors, can qualify for unemployment compensation if they work a certain number of hours a year.

The government, which is trying to make the country's costly welfare system a bit less generous, wants theater workers to put in more hours to qualify for the payments. In the face of a possible strike, the government agreed to delay the change, but the workers dismissed the concession as meaningless.

The strike has already caused the cancellation of a dance festival in Montpelier and delayed the start of the opera festival in Aix-en-Provence. But organizers of a Rolling Stones concert scheduled for Wednesday in Paris promise it will take place.

If the Avignon strike ends, festival goers will see horses perform in the courtyard of the papal palace in Avignon, and attend Shakespearean plays in Lithuanian and Italian.

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