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Vandals of Monet painting face charges

Preliminary charges were filed against five young people suspected of having vandalized a renowned work by Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

"Le Pont d'Argenteuil" was damaged last Sunday when intruders, apparently drunk, broke into Paris' Orsay Museum and punched a 10-centimeter (nearly 4-inch) tear into the canvas.

The five suspects - four men and one woman, all either 18 or 19 years old - were tracked by evidence from museum security cameras and detained on Tuesday, judicial officials said.

One of those detained acknowledged having put a fist in the painting under the influence of alcohol and has been handed preliminarily charges of "damaging an object of public usefulness," judicial officials said. The person faces up to three years in prison and a 45,000 EUR(US$64,000) fine if found guilty.

All five face preliminary charges of "destruction in a group" for having forced open a door to the museum, a former train station on the Left Bank that houses a major collection of Impressionist art.

Under French law, preliminary charges mean that the investigating magistrates have determined there is strong evidence to suggest involvement in a crime. It gives the magistrates time to pursue their probe before they decide whether to send the suspects for trial or drop the case.

The intruders wandered around the museum's ground floor, where the Monet painting was hanging, until an alarm sounded. Before fleeing, one of them punched the painting, officials said.

All but one were high school or college students, the officials said. None had a prior criminal record, officials said.

The break-in occurred during Paris' annual all-night festival, which brings thousands of people into the streets for concerts and exhibits.

Monet led the 19th century Impressionist movement, experimenting notably with light and color in works now deemed priceless.

"Le Pont d'Argenteuil" shows a view of the Seine at a rural bend, featuring a bridge and boats.

Speaking on Sunday, French Culture Minister Christine Albanel said the painting could be restored but deplored the damage.

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