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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Rome obelisk struck by lightning
Axum obelisk with pieces missing
Large pieces from the obelisk crashed to the ground
An ancient obelisk which has been at the centre of a dispute between Italy and Ethiopia has been damaged in a lightning strike.

Several pieces from the top of the Axum Obelisk in central Rome crashed to the ground during a fierce thunderstorm on Monday night.

Archaeology experts are assessing the damage but Rome Prefect Emilio del Mese - the government's representative in the capital - described it as "considerable" according to the daily La Repubblica newspaper.

The obelisk, which is 24 metres (78ft) high, was taken from the holy city of Axum in northern Ethiopia when the fascist regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini annexed the African country in 1937.

It had stood in the city since the early fourth century and is believed to be at least 1,700 years old.

It now stands next to the headquarters of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Obelisk in Rome
There is still a campaign to have the monument returned to Ethiopia

Ethiopian officials have demanded the return of the 180-tonne funerary monument.

Italy agreed to return it in 1998, but a border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea put those plans on hold.

Then last year Vittorio Sgarbi, an undersecretary in Italy's Culture Ministry, caused an uproar in Ethiopia when he suggested that the obelisk had become a "naturalised citizen" after 64 years in Italy.

There is still a strong campaign to have the obelisk returned.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | Africa
22 Jun 01 | Africa
20 Jul 01 | Africa
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