Christie's auction house cancelled the sale of 85 paintings by the Catalan artist Joan Miro after an uproar over whether debt-ridden Portugal , their legal owner, could sell the treasures to buyers abroad. The auctioneers withdrew them from a London sale yesterday even though a Lisbon court threw out a suit by opposition lawmakers, prosecutors and the public trying to block the offer, claiming the government had violated the rules on classifying the artwork. The Miro collection, estimated at more than euros 35m (pounds 29m), came into state hands in 2008 when Portugal nationalised the failed Banco Portugues de Negocios (BPN) that owned them. More than 9,200 people have signed an online petition to keep it in Portugal , despite the drastic austerity measures imposed in the past three years under an international bailout. "The legal uncertainties created by this ongoing dispute mean that we are not able to safely offer the works for sale," Christie's said only hours before the two-day sale was to start. The paintings are being offered by the state holding company Parvalorem , which is in charge of minimising the impact of BPN's old debts and bad loans on public accounts. The court ruled the sale could not be stopped but noted that the state culture secretary's decision had not sought proper authorisation to send the paintings to London last week. Reuters Lisbon
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