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Tue. Mar 5th, 2024

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his “displeasure” Monday over UK counterpart Rishi Sunak’s last minute cancellation of a bilateral meeting set to discuss their long-running dispute over the Parthenon Marbles.

The two leaders were due to hold talks midday Tuesday in London, where Mitsotakis has been visiting since Sunday, before news of their axing emerged late Monday amid an apparent spat over the so-called Elgin Marbles.

“I would like to express my displeasure at the British Prime Minister’s cancellation of our meeting just a few hours before it was due to take place,” the Greek leader said in a brief statement.

He reportedly declined a UK offer to meet Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden instead.

A Downing Street spokesperson said “the UK-Greece relationship is hugely important”, citing joint work within NATO and “tackling shared challenges like illegal migration” and the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

“The deputy prime minister was available to meet with the Greek PM to discuss these important issues,” the spokesperson added, without referencing the marbles issue.

The sculptures were taken from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin.

Athens maintains the marbles were stolen, which Britain denies, and the issue has been a source of contention between the countries for decades.

Sunak has “no plans” to facilitate their return to Athens, his spokesman said earlier Monday.

“Greece’s position on the issue of the Parthenon friezes is well known. I had hoped to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart,” Mitsotakis lamented.

“Those who believe in the rightness and validity of their positions are never afraid to confront the arguments,” he added.

According to the Greek news agency ANA, citing sources within the Greek government, the British prime minister was apparently upset by comments made by his Greek counterpart to the BBC on Sunday.

In his comments Sunday, Mitsotakis likened the collection being held at the British Museum to the Mona Lisa painting being cut in half.

Athens had been lobbying London for a deal that would return the sculptures under some kind of loan arrangement, he told the BBC.

A source from Britain’s ruling Conservatives told the broadcaster Monday that “it became impossible for this meeting to go ahead following commentary regarding the Elgin Marbles prior to it”.

©️ Agence France-Presse

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