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French strike halts arts festivals

Actors across France are staging protests

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LONDON, England -- France's most prestigious Avignon Arts Festival has been cancelled after the director refused to meet striking actors' demands.

Festival director Bernard Faiver d'Arcier said that though he supported the strikers case he was not going to be "bossed around by unions."

The world-renowned Avignon theater festival opened Monday, July 7, only to be immediately boycotted after performers and technicians across France walked out over planned government cuts to the art industry's unemployment benefit system.

An opera festival in nearby Aix-en-Provence, southern France, has also been cancelled because of the strikes.

"The 57th Avignon Festival will not take place," d'Arcier told Reuters news agency Thursday.

"I don't want to be bossed around by unions. And I absolutely refuse to have to resort to calling the police," he added.

The festival draws more than 700,000 people annually to its round the clock performances.

Organizers had hoped to continue the festival, but Thursday morning actors voted to continue their strike. It is the first time that the three-week festival -- first staged in 1947 -- has been cancelled.

Other festivals have closed across France also including the Francofolies music festival. Filming for Jack Nicholson's latest movie has also been hit during the past few weeks.

The government wants to change the unemployment fund for performers which currently takes into account their time-off between shows. The fund is currently 825 million euros ($936 million) in deficit and insist benefits need to be cut, reported The Associated Press.

The artists claim the proposed changes will harm French culture and punish actors who cannot find work.

Faiver said even though the strikes had closed his show he supported the actors. "After three weeks, I won't be the director anymore, and I'll gladly line up on the side of the performers to lend them a hand," AP quoted Faiver as saying.

But the director condemned the arts union CGT saying it had exaggerated the impact the changes would cause.

Fellow theater director Jean-Michel Ribes told AP: "What has happened is very sad."

The Aix-en-Provence opera closure came after hundreds of angry performers stormed a performance of Verdi's "La Traviata" on Wednesday.

Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon said the government will go ahead with the cuts to unemployment benefits despite the protests.

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