Greece shifted its campaign for the return of the Elgin Collection of Parthenon Marbles into top gear yesterday, with Prime Minister Costas Simitis unexpectedly raising the issue during a meeting with his British counterpart, Tony Blair, in London. It was the first official approach of the kind on a prime ministerial level. «I reminded Mr Blair that Greece would like to have the Parthenon Marbles in the [New] Acropolis Museum when the 2004 Olympics take place, and I stressed that the time has now come for us to think seriously about that matter,» Simitis told journalists in London. He said he gave Blair a note with proposals for a deal, but admitted that the new Acropolis Museum will not be fully ready in 2004. Discarding the aggressive approach pioneered by former Culture Minister Melina Mercouri, who launched the campaign for the return of the fifth-century-BC works in the early 1980s, Athens is now seeking a long-term loan of the Marbles in exchange for sending ancient treasures of its own to be displayed in London. Simitis said Blair promised to look into the matter.