GREECE STEPS UP DEMANDS FOR RETURN OF ELGIN MARBLES FOR NEW MUSEUM

ATHENS: Greece is making new demands for the return of the Elgin Marbles to coincide with the opening next month of the £115 million ($230 million) Acropolis Museum, which has a reserved space for the famous piece of classical statuary.

The museum has been established as a home for the 146-metre-long frieze that adorned the Parthenon until 1801.

The Greek Minister for Culture and Athletics, Antonis Samaras, said: "The opening of the Acropolis Museum is a major world event. June 20 will be a day of celebration for all civilised people, not for Greeks alone. I want the Britons especially to consider the Acropolis Museum as the most hospitable place for them."

Greek hopes have risen after the return of treasures from Germany and Sweden.

The Parthenon frieze and other treasures were removed by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, when Athens was under enemy occupation. He sold them to the British Museum for £35,000 after Parliament voted in 1816 to acquire them for the nation.

Mr Samaras is a successor to the late Melina Mercouri, whose strident claims for the return of the marbles made headlines more than 20 years ago. The language today is more restrained, yet more confident.

"I, along with every other Greek, want the marbles reunited, just as Melina did," he said. "The argument against was that there was no deserving museum in Greece to house them. Now, this argument is off the table ... The Acropolis Museum was Melina's dream, and now we see it standing."