PM cites polls in Marbles bid

Taking advantage of a brief encounter during yesterday’s EU intergovernmental conference in Brussels to pressure Tony Blair for the return of the Elgin, or Parthenon, Marbles ahead of the 2004 Olympics, PM Costas Simitis reminded his British counterpart that time is running out. But the PM’s linking of the fifth-century BC sculptures with the forthcoming parliamentary elections drew the ire of opposition parties in Greece, which accused him of trying to squeeze political kudos out of a national issue. «All Greeks want the Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece,» Simitis told a press conference in Brussels. «They also know that the closer we come to the elections, the more intense the dispute over the matter can get. Therefore, it is in our interest to solve this matter as soon as possible. For if the issue is brought up again after the elections, it is not going to be solved – if we want it to be solved before the Olympic Games.» He further clarified that the elections will be «in April or on May 2.» The Games start on August 13. In the face of repeated rebuffs from Blair’s government, Greece still holds out hope that the British will suddenly change their minds and allow the exhibition of the ancient sculptures – which have been held in London’s British Museum for the better part of two centuries – in Athens during the Olympics. To boost its negotiating position, Athens points out that it is building a brand-new museum under the Acropolis to host the works should London ever decide to return them, even in the form of a long-term loan with the Bloomsbury museum retaining ownership. But the project is woefully behind schedule. Opposition New Democracy and Synaspismos Left Coalition accused Simitis of trying to exploit the issue for electoral gains.