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Ethiopia Demands Return of Obelisk

June 10, 2002

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ROME (AP) _ Ethiopia’s prime minister on Monday asked Italy to return the prized Axum Obelisk,a 1,700-year-old monument hauled off by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s forces after their 1937 invasion of the African country.

Meles Zenawi made the request during a speech at the World Food Summit in Rome. Ethiopia has for decades urged Italy to return the obelisk, which stands right next to the summit’s venue.

``Because this meeting is taking place so close to the object of our people’s preoccupation, I thought not mentioning this before this forum would be a grave omission indeed,″ Zenawi said.

``I appeal to the Italian parliament and the people of Italy to end the forced exile and destruction of the obelisk and restitute it now.″

Italy agreed to send the 82-foot-high monument back in 1998, but a border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea put those plans on hold.

Then last year, an undersecretary in Italy’s Culture Ministry, Vittorio Sgarbi, provoked an uproar in Ethiopia by suggesting that the obelisk, after 64 years in Italy, had become a ``naturalized citizen.″

Last month a lightning strike badly damaged the structure, causing several stone chunks to crumble to the ground.

Zenawi opened his speech at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization with comments about ending world hunger, but then switched to the obelisk.

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