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UNESCO to hold talks on 'lost' Greek Marbles

Parthenon Marbles Elgin

UNESCO offers to mediate on the return to Athens of the Parthenon treasures.

The Greeks have no immediate plans to take court action against the British Government over its refusal to return the Parthenon Marbles, now displayed in the British Museum, to their original home

Greek Culture Minister Kostas Tasoulas told a press conference at the Acropolis Museum in Athens that Greece would first 'exhaust' all possibilities with UNESCO over the return of the historic marble friezes and statues that are currently displayed in the British Museum.

The announcement follows the recent visit of British human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, wife of American actor George Clooney, who claims Greece has 'just cause' to seek the return of the famous marbles.

Amal Alamuddin Clooney was among a team of international lawyers who visited Greece to meet government officials, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and advise on the long-standing quest for the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

Little was revealed about the talks between Greek government officials and the lawyers but it emerged that they agreed that the case of the Parthenon Marbles is unique in the world and carries a special significance.

Despite claims that Greece has strong legal grounds for demanding the return of the Marbles, Minister of Culture Kostas Tasoulas has ruled out any imminent litigation.

He said: "We decided not to go to the courts. We decided to ask UNESCO to mediate so that the Parthenon Marbles will be reunited, having on our side distinguished Greek and foreign counsels."

Touring the Acropolis Museum, Alamaddin-Clooney said Great Britain should recognise the fact that the Marbles must be reunited and that Greece has the right to claim them back.

The celebrity visit prompted the expected backlash in the right-wing British press with the Times focusing on a 'frenzy of flashbulbs and fashion commentary' while the Daily Mail rudely told Mrs Clooney to 'stick to posing for photographers'.

Greece will now invite the United Kingdom to round-table talks on the issue mediated by officials from UNESCO. Britain will have six months to respond to the offer while an intergovernmental UNESCO committee is formed to oversee the talks should they happen.

Greece has a tough fight on its hand despite its claim that the Marbles were 'stolen' by British diplomat Lord Elgin almost 200 years ago when he shipped the historic artefacts out of the country.

The Marbles have held pride of place in the British Museum despite long and repeated calls by Greece for the historic monuments to be returned.

The museum insists it will not part with the Marbles willingly and claims they are 'a part of the world's shared heritage and transcend political boundaries' .

The British government also insists the Marbles are best displayed in London where the public can view them for free.

But not all British Members of Parliament agree and some have urged the government to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, calling on the UK to 'engage constructively and engage also in a gracious act'.

Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, told the Commons that "parading stolen booty in the otherwise excellent British Museum" brings "shame on this country."

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn backed the view that the sculptures were 'stolen' from the people of Greece and suggested the UK "constructively engage with a view to returning some, if not all, of these items".

British Culture Minister Helen Grant told MPs that UNESCO was ready to facilitate mediation and that the government would consider the proposal "and respond in due course".

She added, however, that the sculptures were 'legally owned' by the British Museum and did not accept that they had been stolen.

Meanwhile the Parthenon Marbles look set to make a move, although not very far. They have been displayed at their current spot since 1962 but will be moved to the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery wing of the British Museum for an exhibition on Greece scheduled for Spring 2015.

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