* Collection worth over 35 mln euros, comes from failed bank
* Opponents say government broke rules on art classification
* Petition against sale gathered over 9,000 signatures
LISBON, Feb 4 A Portuguese court threw out
objections by opposition lawmakers, prosecutors and the public
to an auction of 85 paintings by Catalan artist Joan Miro owned
by the indebted nation, allowing the sale to start in London
later on Tuesday.
The Miro collection, estimated to be worth a total of more
than 35 million euros ($47 million), became state property after
Portugal nationalised the failed bank BPN in 2008.
The paintings are being offered by state holding company
Parvalorem, with the government's consent.
Parvalorem is in charge of minimising the impact of BPN's
old debts and bad loans on public accounts, even after it was
sold off for around 40 million euros as Portugal grapples with
its debt and economic crisis.
The most highly valued piece in the collection, "Femmes et
oiseaux (Women and Birds)" dating from 1968, is expected to
fetch between 4.8 million euros and 8.3 million euros.
More than 9,200 people have signed an online petition
calling for the collection to be kept in Portugal, despite the
drastic austerity measures imposed over the past three years
under an international bailout.
The hearing, involving opponents of the sale and
representatives of the government, continued late into the night
on Monday but eventually went the way of the government.
"The appeal to suspend the auction was denied," an official
at the Lisbon Administrative Court said after opposition
lawmakers argued that the centre-right government had violated
rules on the classification of cultural assets.
The appeal, which also accused the administration of
ignoring "the immeasurable immaterial value" of the collection
to Portugal, had been backed by the public prosecutor's office.
Socialist member of parliament Gabriela Canavilhas, one of
the authors of the appeal, said the opponents of the sale would
analyse the details of the court's ruling to decide how to
proceed. She did not rule out a new appeal.
The two-day sale, The Art of the Surreal and
Impressionist/Modern, by auction house Christie's and involving
other artists starts at 1900 GMT and will continue on Wednesday.
($1 = 0.7397 euros)
(Reporting by Andrei Khalip, Editing by Axel Bugge and Alison