After nearly 60 years, Italy returns the Obelisk of Axum

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The Independent Online

An Antonov 124 cargo jet broke through the clouds above the site of the ancient city of Axum in northern Ethiopia yesterday, drawing cheers from thousands of waiting Ethiopians. After nearly 60 years, the ancient Obelisk of Axum, one of the country's most venerated monuments, was returning to its rightful owners.

An Antonov 124 cargo jet broke through the clouds above the site of the ancient city of Axum in northern Ethiopia yesterday, drawing cheers from thousands of waiting Ethiopians. After nearly 60 years, the ancient Obelisk of Axum, one of the country's most venerated monuments, was returning to its rightful owners.

The huge Russian plane, one of only two types big and powerful enough to lift the three sections of the obelisk, the largest of which weighs 77 tons, landed safely on a specially built airstrip as bells and chanting priests greeted its arrival.

Teshome Toga, the Ethiopian minister of culture, said: "This is a historic day for all Ethiopians. We have waited so long."

The stone was put under armed guard. It will remain at the airport until the other two sections arrive later this month. Then, the three sections will be taken to the site of the six other obelisks andbe re-erected.

The monument was already in three pieces in 1937 when Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, ordered its removal to Rome.

Ancient Rome was full of obelisks, many of which were looted from ancient Egypt and set up as symbols of domination.

After the Second World War, Italy promised to restore all "works of art, religious objects ... and objects of historical value". But political backtracking and the logistical challenge of moving the huge object meant it was postponed.

Soon after his election as prime minister four years ago, Silvio Berlusconi promised to return the obelisk to Ethiopia.

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