A Greek leader, in London, seeks to restore ancient carvings

A Greek leader, in London, seeks to restore ancient carvings

London — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held talks Tuesday in London with the Greek leader amid a renewed push by Athens for the British Museum to return the marble statues from the Parthenon.

Johnson said he “understands how strong the Greek people feel” about the sculptures after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue during the talks. But the British leader stressed that the decision on this issue rests with the British Museum, where the glass globes are.

Johnson’s office said: “Leaders agreed that this issue does not in any way affect the strength of the UK-Greece partnership.”

The marbles – 17 figures and part of a frieze decorating the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument – were taken from the ancient temple of Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century. They have been at the center of a long dispute between the two countries.

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Britain maintains that the sculptures were legally acquired by Elgin when the Ottomans were ruling Greece. The Greek government says it was stolen and wants it back for display in the new Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009.

“The glass balls were stolen in the 19th century, they belong in the Acropolis Museum, and we need to discuss this issue seriously,” Mitsotakis told Britain’s Daily Telegraph last week.

Earlier on Tuesday, Johnson’s spokesman confirmed that the British Museum operates independently of the government and is free from political interference.

“Any decisions regarding collections made by the museum’s curators and any question about the location of the Parthenon statues is theirs,” he said.

The British Museum said on its website that Elgin’s actions “were subjected to a thorough investigation by a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816 and found to be perfectly lawful, before the sculptures entered the British Museum’s collection by Act of Parliament”.

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The museum curators added that they “firmly believe that there is a positive merit and public benefit in dividing the sculptures between two great museums, each telling an integrated but different story.”

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