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Hollande recruits culture to anti-terrorism fight at opening of revamped Alsace museum

French President François Hollande at the official opening of the Unterlinden museum in Colmar, eastern France Reuters/Vincent Kessler

French President François Hollande declared culture a weapon in the fight against terrorism on Saturday when opening a revamped museum with a collection of Renaissance masterpieces in Alsace. Invoking the Islamic State armed group's attack on a heavy metal concert in Paris and its destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, he promised to ensure that French children and foreign tourists could continue to visit France's galleries and museums.

Culture is "a major part of belonging to the nation" and a key element in France's international influence, Hollande said at the reopening of the Unterlinden museum in the eastern French town of Colmar. "That's why terrorism attacks the very idea of culture, when it attacks young people in a concert hall" or destroys antiquities in the Syrian city of Palmyra.

Matthias Grûnewald's Issenheim altarpiece Public domain

The museum, which has been extended from its original site in a former convent into a neighbouring former public baths, houses a number of great works of art and is most proud of Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim altarpiece, "part of the heritage of all humanity", according to Hollande.

But the president soon came down to earth, reminding his audience that the government has alloted 130 million euros to a plan to develop museums ouside Paris as part of a cultural decentralisation programme that has seen the Louvre open a subsidiary in the former industrial city of Lens and the Pompidou modern art museum one in Metz, also in the east of the country.

The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine, 16th century altarpiece fragment Unterlinden museum

Some 65 million people visit French museums every year, Hollande said. "Three out of four tourists say they have come to France to visit a museum."

And, although he intends to extend the state of emergency decreed after the Paris attacks for a further three months, the ban on school visits to museums it imposed has been lifted because "we should not deprive our children of anything, least of all culture, today".

The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Martin Schongauer Musée Unterlinden

The president also announced the conclusion of a long-awaited agreement with Switzerland on tax arrangements at the Basel-Mulshouse Euroairport on the border of France, Switzerland and Germany.

Swiss companies in the Swiss customs sector will be exempt from French local taxes and the two countries will share revenue from tax on the airport's profits, according to the AFP news agency.