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Using the cover of Carnival crowds to make their escape, armed thieves burst into the Chacara do Ceu

Brazil Art Heist Is Cloaked by Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 25, 2006 (Agence France-Presse) — Millions of Brazilians danced to the rhythm of samba drums as they celebrated Carnival Saturday, many of them unaware of an art heist on Friday night that has marred the world's biggest street party.

Using the cover of Carnival crowds to make their escape, armed thieves burst into the Chacara do Ceu museum in Rio de Janeiro and walked off with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Dali, as well as a book by Picasso.

Experts said the artworks were worth at least $20 million and were among the most important in the museum's collection.

The paintings were "The Dance" by Picasso and a book by him titled "Toros"; "Marine" by Monet, "Garden of Luxembourg" by Matisse and "Two Balconies" by Dali, said the museum director, Vera de Alencar.

The thieves forced the museum staff to disconnect the building's alarm and camera system.

At least four men brandishing firearms had been involved in the heist, she said, adding that the gunmen also mugged five tourists inside the museum. About 32,000 police officers were deployed for Carnival.

The police said a museum guard who tried to stop the thieves was hit in the face, while another who attempted to yank the Picasso from a robber's hands got hit over the head with a weapon.

The thieves relied on violence and speed and knew exactly what they were taking, Ms. De Alencar said. "Dali's picture, for example, is the only one by him in public exhibition in Latin America," she said.

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