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Egypt Bars Officials' Travel in Art Theft Probe


Egyptian authorities have blocked at least nine culture ministry officials from leaving the country in an effort to find out who stole a $55 million Van Gogh masterpiece from a Cairo museum.

News agencies also reported Monday that the head of the culture ministry's fine arts section, Mohsen Shaalan, three museum security guards and another official had been arrested on charges of negligence in the theft.

Law enforcement authorities informed Interpol officials about the missing Poppy Flowers painting and placed Egyptian police on alert at the country's borders.

The painting by the Dutch master was cut from its frame on Saturday in broad daylight. The painting, depicting gold and red flowers in a vase, had been on display at the Mahmud Khalil Museum.

Authorities said there were 43 security cameras at the museum, but only seven of them were working.

Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said no one would be able to easily sell or conceal the painting because of its size, 63 by 57 centimeters.

It is the second time that the 1887 painting has been stolen. The painting, sometimes also called Vase and Flowers, was stolen the first time in 1978. But it was found two years later in Kuwait.

State-run newspaper Al-Ahram said security at the museum has not been working properly since December 2006. Hosni said the museum would have been closed if it had been known that the warning system was not working properly.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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