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27 June, 2001
Australian prime minister John Howard has reversed an earlier decision and decided to take up the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece with his British counterpart Tony Blair, after tens of thousands of signatures were collected calling for the Marbles' return, it was reported Tuesday.
Last year, Howard had refused to back the demand for the return of the Marbles when asked to do so by the Australian-Hellenic Council.
But after tens of thousands of signatures were collected and repeated local Greek press front-page stories on the issue, Howard said he would take the issue up with Blair when they met in October at the British Commonwealth Summit in Brisbane.
"Since the return of the Marbles touches a large part of the Australian population, I am obliged to bring it up with Mr. Blair," Howard said.
Officials of the Australian-Hellenic Council, headed by World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) coordinator for Oceania Costas Vertzagias, called on Howard at the prime minister's office in Canberra and presented him with petition for the return of the Marbles and other demands signed by tens of thousands of Australian citizens.
Vertzagias told ANA that the prime minister also promised to study the request that his government provide financial assistance to Australian citizens of Cypriot origin whose property rights have been violated by the Turkish occupation regime on the island republic and wish to press lawsuits against Turkey.
Sources close to the Australian premier said that Howard had brought up the issue of a solution to the Cyprus issue with his Turkish counterpart Bulent Ecevit but had not received a satisfactory reply, as Ecevit claimed the Cyprus issue was settled in 1974 (the year of the Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern sector of the island).
The 5th century B.C. Marbles were removed from the Parthenon by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century with tacit permission of local Ottoman administrators then ruling in the area. Elgin removed the friezes and other parts of the impressive Parthenon temple, dedicated to the ancient goddess Athena, and sold them to the British Museum in 1816, where they have been housed since.
Source: Athens News Agency