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Elgin Marbles legal action ruled out by Greece

The Elgin Marbles Image copyright Reuters
Image caption About 30% of the original Parthenon Marbles are held in the British museum

Greece has ruled out taking legal action against the UK to reclaim the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.

In an unexpected move, Greece's culture minister said the country would pursue a "diplomatic and political" approach to retrieving the sculptures instead.

In doing so, the country has rejected the advice of barrister Amal Clooney, who had urged Greece to take Britain to the International Court of Justice.

Lord Elgin acquired the Marbles from the Ottoman Empire 200 years ago.

Greece insists the Parthenon Sculptures - as they are properly known - were taken illegally and has pursued a high-profile campaign in recent years for their return, latterly with the help of Mrs Clooney.

Mrs Clooney reportedly submitted a 150-page report to the Greek government this week urging it to formally request the repatriation of the marbles and take Britain to the International Court of Justice if it refused.

But Greece's culture minister Nikos Xydakis told the country's Mega TV: "One cannot go to court over whatever issue. Besides, in international courts the outcome is uncertain".

He said he believed attitudes to the future of the Marbles were slowly changing and would favour Greece in a diplomatic approach.


The Marbles

  • Friezes and pediment figures which decorated the Parthenon temple in Athens, built 447-432 BC
  • Many were removed in 1801 by agents of the British diplomat Lord Elgin and in 1816 they were sold to the British Museum
  • Most of the surviving sculptures are roughly equally divided between London and Athens
  • The new Acropolis Museum opened in Athens in 2009. It is designed to display all of the surviving sculptures, in their original layout

For 30 years, Athens has been locked in a bitter dispute over its demand for the marbles to be returned.

The British Museum recently turned down a proposal by Unesco, the UN cultural agency, to mediate in the dispute. Mr Xydakis condemned the refusal, accusing Britain of "negativism" and a "lack of respect".

In December, the museum loaned one of the marbles for the first time to Russia for a display in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.

The Greek prime minister at the time, Antonis Samaras, said the museum's decision was "an affront" to the Greek people.

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