New Acropolis museum opens amid marbles row

Greece ramped up pressure on London to return priceless statues from antiquity taken over 200 years ago ahead of Saturday night's grand opening of the new Acropolis Museum.


AFP - The Greek government launched a new plea for a London museum to return priceless Parthenon marbles ahead of the grand opening Saturday of the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Greece has invited a slew of international leaders to unveil the long-delayed museum at the foot of the ancient citadel, which was originally intended to open in time for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

The government also invited British Museum officials to attend the opening despite their refusal to return the Parthenon marbles that were taken by a British lord in 1806 when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire.

The Parthenon marbles are known as the Elgin Marbles in Britain after the aristocrat who expropriated them from Greece,

The Acropolis Museum, which houses replicas of the sculptures held in London, represents a new "call for the return of the Parthenon marbles," Culture Minister Antonis Samaras said late Friday.

An international group campaigning for the return of the marbles said the 2012 Olympics hosted by London would represent a perfect symbolic moment to bring the relics back to Greece.

"We urge the United Kingdom to begin the process of reunifying the Parthenon sculptures in the (New Acropolis Museum)," said David Hill, president of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

"We believe that the occasion of the 2012 London Olympics would be an appropriate time to return the Parthenon sculptures to Greece," Hill, whose group has members in 17 countries, told reporters in Athens.

Designed by celebrated Franco-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, the glass building offers panoramic views of the stone citadel and showcases sculptures from the golden age of Athenian democracy in the fifth century BCE.

The three-level building set out over a total area of 25,000 square metres (270,000 square feet) will display more than 350 artefacts and sculptures that were previously held in a small museum atop the Acropolis.

Heavy security was deployed in the Greek capital for the grand opening in the evening.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Samaras will open the ceremony.

Guests include European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, UNESCO chief Koichiro Matsura, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan and the heads of state and government of several European nations.

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