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Italy Claims Ethiopian Obelisk of Axum

July 23, 2001

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ROME (AP) _ Ethiopia may have to wait a little longer to get back the 1,000-year-old Obelisk of Axum.

An Italian official said recently that the obelisk, which Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini hauled off to Italy after his 1937 invasion of Ethiopia, is Italian.

Vittorio Sgarbi, subsecretary in the Culture Ministry and a leading art critic, said the obelisk had been in Italy so long it was now a ``naturalized citizen.″

Returning the obelisk to Ethiopia would be inopportune, he claimed, because ``at its age it would arrive broken.″ Instead, Italy should spend the money allotted for the move to fix other obelisks still in Ethiopia, the ANSA news agency quoted Sgarbi as saying.

A United Nations conservation agency carried out studies on the obelisk several years ago and came up with recommendations on how to ship it home.

The obelisk is a treasured relic of Ethiopia’s past grandeur and the government there has for decades tried to get it back.

Italy agreed to send the obelisk back as recently as 1998, but the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that followed put those plans on hold.

After a visit by an official from Italy’s previous center-left government in December, Ethiopian officials said they expected the obelisk would be returned this year.

That government since has been replaced by the center-right government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose coalition includes the once-fascist National Alliance party.

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