Bangladesh adviser quits over artifact theft

DHAKA Wed Dec 26, 2007 2:30pm EST

DHAKA (Reuters) - The adviser to Bangladesh's army-backed interim government for education and cultural affairs, Ayub Quadri, resigned on Wednesday amid an inquiry into the theft of two rare archaeological artifacts, his family and friends said.

They said Quadri tendered his resignation citing unexplained personal grounds but government officials said it was linked to the theft of two statues of Hindu Lord Vishnu on Saturday.

The antiques were lost while being boarded in a Paris-bound plane at the Dhaka airport, which was waiting to fly a consignment of antiques from Bangladesh for an exhibition at the Guimet museum in Paris.

Officials at the Dhaka National Museum said the Vishnu antiques were sculptured about 1,500 years ago and were among the rarest archaeological objects in Bangladesh.

Quadri later told reporters he would share responsibility for the loss of the artifacts and might consider quitting his government post.

The first consignment of artifacts was already flown to Paris by a French aircraft before authorities stopped the second shipment following detection of the theft.

"The government has decided to regret to the Guimet Museum in Paris that it would not be possible to go ahead ... as planned," said a statement from the office of the head of the interim government on Tuesday.

The decision was made as opposition from art lovers and conservers against the shipment of the rare artifacts to France had intensified following theft of two Vishnu statues.

Police detained 15 suspects and were interrogating them.

The art lovers had earlier protested against the shipment as they were worried artifacts might be stolen during shipment.

(Reporting by Masud Karim; Writing by Anis Ahmed)

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