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Row simmers over Greek marbles

- by Andy Cornish

The row between Britain and Greece over the Parthenon Marbles continues to simmer after a decision by the British Museum to ship one of the Parthenon Marbles to an exhibition in Russia.

The move triggered outrage in Greece and small wonder too, as the British Museum has often claimed that the main reason that the sculptures cannot be returned to Greece is because they are too fragile to be moved.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras dubbed the decision to 'loan' a sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary is an 'affront' to the Greek people.

Greeks have also been infuriated at the secrecy that surrounded the shipment. No announcement was made until the statue was unveiled in Russia.

This is the first time one of the Parthenon marble statues has ever been removed from the British Museum since 1803 when they were taken from Greece by the British diplomat Earl Elgin. The statue is on display in the museum until January 18 next year.

The statue is a sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos, a headless male figure and a "supreme example of an original Greek work" according to a press release from the British Museum.

Greek ministers continue to fume over the refusal to return the Marbles to their original home in the Parthenon in Athens.

Acropolis Museum good enough for Marbles

Previously the British Museum has argued that Greece did not have an acceptable museum in which to display such important treasures but that argument was shot down with the opening of the Acropolis Museum.

The multi-million-euro Acropolis Museum opened to the public in June 2009 and has almost 4,000 objects on exhibition over an area of 14,000 square metres.

One of the motivations for the construction of a new museum was that, when Greece made requests for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, it was claimed that Greece had no suitable location where they could be displayed.

The creation of a gallery for the display of the Parthenon Marbles was key to proposals for the design of a new museum which is located by the south-east slope of the Acropolis hill, on an ancient road that led up to the Parthenon in classical times.

In a show of arrogance verging on contempt, British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, told BBC radio that he hoped the Greek government would be "excited" at the sculpture being displayed to a new audience in Russia.

The Greek Prime Minister retorted that the "Parthenon and its sculptures have been looted. The value of the sculptures is priceless."

He added that Greeks strongly identified with their history and civilization and it could not be "fragmented, lent or conceded".

Greece continues to demand return of Marbles

The marble statues that once decorated the Acropolis in Athens have been a subject of bitter dispute ever since they were taken from the Greek capital by the Earl of Elgin in 1803 and later housed in London's British Museum.

Greece has demanded the return of the sculptures, which decorated the Acropolis of Athens for over 2,000 years before their removal.

Elgin claimed he had permission to take the works by the Ottomans who ruled Greece at the time but Athens regards their removal as theft.

Greece's campaign for their return has the support of lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, recently married to actor George Clooney, and the government last month began polling passengers at Athens airport on whether the marbles should be returned.

Greece has threatened international legal action to have the treasures returned but is fist waiting for the outcome of possible talks between UNESCO and Britain on the dispute after the UN's cultural and scientific office offered to act as a mediator.