Blair rejects Elgin Marbles return
ATHENS, Greece -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected demands by Greece for the return of ancient sculptures removed from the Parthenon 200 years ago.
Commonly known as the Elgin Marbles, the sculptures that decorated the Parthenon were taken by Lord Elgin, Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and are now housed in the British Museum.
"The marbles belong to the British Museum ... which does not intend to return any part of the collection to its country of origin," Blair said in an interview being published on Sunday in the Athens daily newspaper To Vima.
The collection has been the subject of a decades-long diplomatic dispute between Britain and Greece.
Athens is pressing for their return by 2004, when the city will host the Olympic Games, and is planning to build a museum in the centre of the capital to house them.
Blair held talks in London with Greek Premier Costas Simitis on Tuesday.
Blair told To Vima: "One should consider the fact that six million people visit the British Museum every year and they can appreciate the beauty of the Parthenon Sculptures and Greece's special contribution to world civilisation."
The sculptures, which adorned the Parthenon temple, built in Athens in the 5th century BC, include frieze panels, pediment sculptures and statues.
Around half the marbles remain in Athens.
Earlier this year Hollywood actor Sir Sean Connery called for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their "rightful place" in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.
During a visit to Greece in January, the star told Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos he was "confident that the British government will change its position."
A month earlier, Greece's ambassador to the UK turned down an invitation to a dinner marking the British Museum's £100 million redevelopment.
Alexandros Sandis declined the invitation because a gallery which houses the sculptures was being used for the dinner.
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