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Manhunt launched in dramatic Greek museum robbery

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:58 AM EST, Sun February 19, 2012
A security guard at the museum at Olympia was tied up as raiders stole 65 statuettes on Friday.
A security guard at the museum at Olympia was tied up as raiders stole 65 statuettes on Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two suspects are sought in the smash-and-grab robbery
  • They tied up a guard before storming the museum
  • They took 65 to 68 clay and brass statues, and a gold ring
  • It's the second big theft of this kind in Greece this year

(CNN) -- A manhunt was under way Saturday in Greece for two suspects who tied up a guard, stormed the Archeological Museum of Olympia, smashed glass casings and stole dozens of small statues, state media reported.

The robbers took 65 to 68 clay and brass statues, and a gold ring, police spokesman Athanassios Kokkalakis said Friday, the day of the theft.

Closed-circuit video footage showed the suspects as they seized about 65 statuettes, Greece's official AMNA news agency reported.

It's the second big theft of this kind in Greece this year.

Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos submitted his resignation after the robbery, the prime minister's office said Friday.

In January, three art works -- including a painting by Pablo Picasso and another by Piet Mondrian -- were stolen from the National Gallery in Athens.

Dimitra Koutsoumba, president of the Greek Archaeologists' Association, said Friday that the latest attack was sad and worrying.

"It is the first time that we have an armed robbery at a museum during operating hours. It shows that the cuts the Culture Ministry has made since the crisis hit in 2009 make it easier for such incidents to take place," she said. "The minister himself had told us that the cuts were ranging between 30% and 35%, and they include cuts in personnel."

She called for more importance to be placed on cultural heritage and said greater steps should be taken to protect irreplaceable items that belong to the nation.

"Such incidents are an issue of national security," she said. "The artifacts that were taken were mainly figurines related to the Olympics, so many were depicting athletes."

The museum, built on an ancient site in the Peloponnese peninsula, is considered among the most important in Greece.

The ceremony for the lighting of the Olympic flame for the 2012 London Olympics is scheduled to take place on May 10 at the Ancient Olympia site, where the museum is located.

The first Olympic Games were held in Olympia in 776 B.C. to celebrate the deity Zeus. A sanctuary at the site was dedicated to him.

CNN's Helena DeMoura contributed to this report.

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