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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 October, 2003, 05:35 GMT 06:35 UK
Greek PM in Elgin marbles upset
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. Archive picture
Simitis (right) is accused of using "the national issue"
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis has sparked outrage among opposition parties after telling his British counterpart, Tony Blair, that returning the Elgin Marbles, could help his re-election bid.

The row broke out after Greek television stations aired a clip of Mr Simitis - apparently unaware of nearby cameras - talking to Mr Blair about the marbles at the sidelines of the European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday.

"Tony, I would like to discuss with you about the marbles... as you know we have elections next year in Greece. Maybe this could be useful," Mr Simitis was seen telling Mr Blair.

The opposition accused Mr Simitis of exploiting "the great national issue", referring to Greece's long campaign for the return of the 5th Century sculptures from the British Museum in London.

"Mr Simitis admitted in Brussels that he is losing the election," said Thodors Roussopoulos, spokesman for the opposition New Democracy party.

"It is sad for him to use a national issue, such as the return of the Parthenon marbles, for petty party-political ends."

Elgin Marbles
The Marbles were removed from Greece nearly 200 years ago
The Greek media also had a field day on Friday.

"Tony, send me the marbles, I have elections," read a headline in the daily Kathimerini, while the front page of Ta Nea's newspaper had an article entitled "Codename: Marbles for elections".

Mr Simitis defended himself by telling reporters that he wanted to point out to Mr Blair that there was not much time left to reach a deal on the marbles before the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Mr Simitis' Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) hopes to secure a fourth consecutive term in the election, which is due next spring.

The PASOK has been trailing the New Democracy party for more than a year in several opinion polls.

The marbles - depicting gods, men and monsters - were removed from Athens' Parthenon in 1811 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire that controlled Greece at the time.

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