Undaunted by this week’s flat rejection by the British Museum of Greece’s idea of borrowing the Elgin Collection of Acropolis sculptures, the Greek government yesterday expressed high optimism that the Marbles will be in Athens by 2004. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said Greek efforts to get back the 5th century BC architectural sculptures, removed in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, are bearing fruit. «We are very close to our target,» he said. «Activity inside Great Britain… concerning the return of the Parthenon Marbles is growing by the day.» «We are not interested in the formal matter of ownership, but in the essential question of the return of the Marbles to be placed in the new Acropolis museum,» he said. He added that the official responsible for the new museum – which the government hopes will be ready in time for the 2004 Olympics but currently only exists on paper – will formally ask the British Museum for the sculptures on Monday. On Tuesday, British Museum director Robert Anderson ruled out lending the sculptures to Greece.