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Italian culture minister to fight court ousting of museum heads

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ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s culture minister promised on Thursday to fight a court ruling that removed the directors of five museums credited with helping boost revenues after years of poor management.

Dario Franceschini said he was astonished by the court’s decision to uphold complaints from unsuccessful applicants for some of the 20 directorships that, with great fanfare, were opened for the first time to foreign candidates in 2015.

The ruling affects the heads of the Ducal Palace Museum of Mantua and the Estense Gallery in Modena in northern Italy, and the archaeological museums of Naples, Taranto and Reggio Calabria in the south.

“I take note, with great pain, of what this means both practically and for the image of Italy abroad,” Franceschini told reporters in Rome, saying he would appoint temporary directors and appeal against the ruling.

The new directors were part of a plan to dust off the state museum system, a sprawling network of 400 sites of which until 2015 only four had a restaurant and 80 percent had no bookshop.

The administrative court for the Lazio region, which surrounds Rome, ruled that the evaluation process was confused and opaque, and questioned the hiring of foreigners to some of the posts.

The ministry says its reform efforts are paying off, with museum ticket revenue rising 12 percent last year to 172 million euros ($193 million). Earnings remain low compared to other countries, however - Paris’s Louvre alone rakes in 100 million euros a year.

The court rejected a call for the removal of the German directors of the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia in Florence - which together house some of the Renaissance’s greatest masterpieces - and of Paestum archaeological site near Naples.

Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; editing by Philip Pullella and Mark Trevelyan