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Greek PM demands return of Elgin Marbles in awkward clash with Boris Johnson at Downing Street

The Greek Prime Minister has issued a fresh call for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece in an awkward clash with Boris Johnson at Downing Street.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue of the 2,500-year-old sculptures, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, at a meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street on Tuesday.

But Mr Johnson insisted there was nothing he could do and reiterated the UK’s long-standing position, that it was a matter concerning the British Museums trustees.

Greece says the sculptures, which date from 5th century BC, were stolen by Elgin, a diplomat, from the Acropolis in Athens more than 200 years ago.

Boris Johnson

Kyriakos Mitsotakis (left) has pledged to raise the future of the famous statues, currently at the British Museum, when he meets Boris Johnson (right) in Downing Street

The marbles, 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument were taken by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century

The marbles, 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument were taken by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century

Greece says the sculptures, which date from 5th century BC, were stolen by Elgin, a diplomat, from the Acropolis in Athens more than 200 years ago

Greece says the sculptures, which date from 5th century BC, were stolen by Elgin, a diplomat, from the Acropolis in Athens more than 200 years ago 

Politicians, including Jeremy Corbyn, have backed returning the Marbles – but the Government insists they were purchased legitimately and have been painstakingly preserved in the UK.

The row intensified last year when the EU suggested the return of the Marbles could form part of the Brexit trade deal.

Raising the issue at Downing Street on Tuesday, Mr Mitsotakis demanded the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Mr Johnson said that he understood the strength of feeling from the Greek people on this issue, but reiterated the UK’s position on the sculptures – which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s trustees since their acquisition.

The leaders agreed that the issue in no way affects the strength of the UK-Greece partnership.

Mr Mitsotakis joined Good Morning Britain on Tuesday morning to demand the return of the Elgin Marbles ahead of his meeting with the PM.   

He told ITV’s GMB: ‘They’re here because they were stolen by Lord Elgin…

‘But at the end of the day, this is not a legal argument, and I don’t like to talk about the return of the marbles.

‘I like to talk about the reunification of the marbles; I would encourage you to have one of your shows in that part of the museum.

‘You will see half of them, which is what you show in a lovely modern museum right under the acropolis.

‘We are advocating for the reunification of the marbles, I will be making my case to the British Prime Minister.’ 

Mr Mitsotakis joined Good Morning Britain on Tuesday morning to demand the return of the Elgin Marbles ahead of his meeting with the PM

Mr Mitsotakis joined Good Morning Britain on Tuesday morning to demand the return of the Elgin Marbles ahead of his meeting with the PM

Mr Mitsotakis (left) and Mr Johnson (right) were pictured at Downing Street on Tuesday during their meeting

Mr Mitsotakis (left) and Mr Johnson (right) were pictured at Downing Street on Tuesday during their meeting

The marbles, 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument were taken by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century.

Britain maintains that Elgin acquired the sculptures legally when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans.

A LONG-RUNNING HISTORICAL DISPUTE: WHAT ARE THE ELGIN MARBLES? 

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants.

The 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, removed the Parthenon Marble pieces from the Acropolis in Athens while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

In 1801, the Earl claimed to have obtained a permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon. 

As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required permission to enter the site.

His agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.

The sculptures were shipped to Britain, but in Greece, the Scots aristocrat was accused of looting and vandalism.

They were bought by the British Government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum. They still stand on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

Greece has sought their return from the British Museum through the years, to no avail.

The authenticity of Elgin’s permit to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon has been widely disputed, especially as the original document has been lost. Many claim it was not legal.

However, others argue that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognisable.

A Greek spokesman said: ‘The obligation to return the Parthenon sculptures is entirely up to the government of the United Kingdom,’ Mr Oikonomou said.

He added that the Greek request for government-to-government talks on the issue was backed by the United Nations’ cultural agency, Unesco.

Greece has said the new Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 would be used to display the sculptures if they were returned.

Mr Johnson earlier this year ruled out returning the marbles to Greece, telling Greek newspaper Ta Nea: ‘I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue.

‘But the UK Government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition.’

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants.

The 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, removed the Parthenon Marble pieces from the Acropolis in Athens while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

In 1801, the Earl claimed to have obtained a permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon. 

As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required permission to enter the site.

His agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.

The sculptures were shipped to Britain, but in Greece, the Scots aristocrat was accused of looting and vandalism.

They were bought by the British Government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum. They still stand on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

Greece has sought their return from the British Museum through the years, to no avail.

The authenticity of Elgin’s permit to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon has been widely disputed, especially as the original document has been lost. Many claim it was not legal.

However, others argue that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognisable.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk