Director of Vienna Art Museum Called to Resign after Major Theft

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - The embattled director of Vienna's Art History Museum has refused to resign, despite mounting calls for him to step down in the aftermath of a theft of a precious 16th century figurine valued at euro50 million (US$62.5 million).

Wilfried Seipel, who heads the city's prestigious Kunsthistorischen Museum, said Wednesday he would not step down as demanded by numerous Austrian politicians.

The latest to call for his resignation was the opposition Social Democrats, whose floor leader in parliament, Josef Cap, argued that Seipel's poor management ultimately was responsible for the theft.

In May 2003, thieves broke into the museum and stole the 26-centimeter (10-inch) sculpted "saliera," or saltcellar. The rare piece, a significant Italian Renaissance work, was created by Florentine master Benvenuto Cellini. It has not been recovered, despite a continuing investigation and a reward for information about the theft.

The ornately carved object, with gold, ebony and enamel, features a male figure holding a trident who represents the sea confronting a female figure representing the earth. Next to the male figure is a small vessel meant to hold salt.

The three guards were suspended pending an investigation, and Seipel at one point offered to step down from his post at the state-run museum. Austria's education and culture minister did not accept his resignation, saying responsibility for the theft rested with the guards.