Campaigner urges Greece to fight for Marbles for new Acropolis museum

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Greece should use the opening of its new Acropolis museum to ratchet up the pressure on Britain for the permanent return of the Parthenon Marbles to their homeland, the head of an international campaign said Friday.

The 2,500-year-old sculptures and friezes were removed from Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Lord Elgin and successive British governments have refused to return them despite a campaign launched by Greece in the early 1980s.

*quot;What we would like to see is the Greek government to elevate this as an issue in bilateral relations between Britain and Greece,*quot; said David Hill of the International Organization for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles after meeting Greeces new Culture Minister Michalis Liapis.

The €129 million (US$181.5 million) museum, originally slated for completion before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was delayed for legal reasons and by new archaeological discoveries on the site at the foot of the famed Acropolis hill.

With 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) of space, the facility is expected to display about 4,000 works, 10 times the number than the old hilltop museum it replaces.

A top-level, glassed-in gallery has been designed to hold the Marbles _ if and when they are returned _ while offering an unobstructed view of the Acropolis.

Curators will start transferring hundreds of antiquities to the new museum by crane on Oct. 14, although the new museum is not due to start opening until next year, with the completed galleries open by 2009.

Liapis told reporters that *quot;the reunification of the Marbles is an historical necessity … with the return of antiquities to the museum in a few days, it gives us new optimism and perspective.*quot;

Athens now proposes that the Marbles, currently kept at the British Museum in London, are returned through a long-term loan.

Hill said he hoped that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would prove more accommodating than his predecessor Tony Blair.

Blair left the matter to the British Museum trustees, who declined to return them saying the Museum owns them and that the sculptures, as part of the worlds cultural heritage, are best kept in London where visitors can view them for free.

But Hill said the new museum would allow the Marbles to be presented much better than in London.

*quot;It (the museum) is the best argument for the return of the Marbles, and is arguably one of the most significant new buildings in Greece for 2,000 years. It is of enormous significance, not only to Greece but to the world.*quot;