Rishi Sunak cancels meeting with Greek PM in row over 2,500-year-old sculptures

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has accused his British counterpart, Rishi Sunak, of canceling an appointment in London on Tuesday amid a diplomatic row over the status of the Parthenon sculptures.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (FBC)

Greece has repeatedly asked the British Museum to permanently return the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th century when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Mitsotakis said in a statement: “I am disappointed that the British Prime Minister canceled our planned meeting a few hours before it was scheduled to take place.

“The Greek position on the issue of the Parthenon sculpture is well known. I had hoped to have had the opportunity to discuss it with my British counterpart. Anyone who believes in the rightness and justice of his position is not afraid to face an argument,” he said. .

The Greek government has been negotiating with British Museum chairman George Osborne over a loan deal for the sculptures, which have been the source of a centuries-old dispute between the two countries.

In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Mitsotakis expressed his frustration that talks about a possible return of the sculptures to Athens are not progressing quickly enough.

He said that the continuation of the sculptures in the British Museum “cut the Mona Lisa in half” and was not a question of ownership, but of “mixing”.

A British government official, who did not want to be named, said the dispute over the marble was not conducive for the meeting to continue.

According to Sunak’s spokesperson, there are no plans to return the sculptures.

Asked about Mitsotakis’s comments, Sunak’s office said Britain’s relationship with Greece was “very important” and the two countries should work together on global challenges such as illegal immigration.

British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden met Mitsotakis instead to discuss these issues, Sunac’s office said.

The British government has always relinquished ownership of the marbles that make up half of the 160-meter (525-foot) frieze that decorates the Parthenon, and has always said they were legally acquired.

Law prevents the British Museum from removing objects from its collection except in certain circumstances, but the law does not prohibit loans.

The meeting between Mitsotakis and British opposition leader Keir Starmer went ahead as planned on Monday. The Financial Times reported last week that Starmer would not block a “mutually acceptable” loan deal for the sculptures.

An employee declined to comment.

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