Vatican returns fragment of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Greek government spokesman resigns over real-estate scandal Athens - The Vatican returned a small fragment of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens Wednesday on a one-year loan, setting in motion what Greece hopes will be a precedent for the British Museum to return the sculptures it has.

"This is a gesture from one of the most important museums in Europe," Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said.

"It should be seen as an example for other museums to follow to return the Parthenon Marbles."

The loan of the priceless sculpture follows a request by Greece's late Archbishop Christodoulos during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

The Vatican's fragment measures 24 by 25 centimetres and depicts the head of a man carrying a tray.

The Parthenon artefact was the second to be returned by Italy in just over a month after a small section of the ancient temple was returned to Athens after being housed in a museum in Palermo, Sicily.

For years Greece has called on Britain to hand back the fifth century BC masterpieces, currently housed in a special gallery at the British Museum.

The friezes, also known as the Elgin Marbles, were removed from atop the Acropolis by Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, more than 200 years ago.

The 2,500-year-old sculptures, depicting 160 meters of religious and mythological scenes, have been held by the British Museum since 1816 after they were sold by Elgin, despite ongoing Greek efforts to have them repatriated.

The British Museum has refused to return them, insisting that the transaction was legal as Elgin obtained permission to remove them from Greece's then rulers, the Ottoman Empire.

Athens hopes to display them in a new 100-million-euro (130- million-dollar) museum, which is due to be completed next year, but the British Museum has said in the past that there was no sense in returning them as more people could see them where they were. (dpa)