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Italy voices ire as Getty breaks off talks

Repeats demand for the return of disputed art

ROME -- Saying it had been blindsided by the decision of the J. Paul Getty Museum to end talks over disputed antiquities, Italy lashed out yesterday at the Los Angeles institution and reiterated demands for the return of artworks.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli stopped short, however, of imposing unilateral sanctions against the Getty.

Italy had previously threatened an embargo that effectively would end all cultural cooperation.

In a news conference, Rutelli expressed hope that talks with the museum could be revived.

"We were surprised and disappointed," Rutelli said of Getty's announcement this week that it would return 26 looted statues, frescoes, and ceramics, but that it would stop discussions involving several dozen other disputed items.

It was "a unilateral declaration," Rutelli said of the Getty Museum in his statement. "The next step is up to them."

Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, said in a statement yesterday that he was "saddened" by the breakdown in talks, especially that Italy's "emotional" claims over the 2,500-year-old bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth had seemed to have emerged as a breaking point.

Rutelli said he would travel to Boston and New York next week, where other major museums have entered into agreements with Italy over the return of artworks.

He said he hoped that those agreements would encourage the Getty and spark new talks over a return of the works.

"What would Getty gain?" Rutelli said. "We are ready to give them artifacts on a long-loan basis, important artifacts, it would enrich their exhibitions."

He reiterated Italy's position that it is no longer tenable that major museums exhibited looted antiquities while the countries where they were excavated turned a blind eye.

The Getty museum has said it believes the "Victorious Youth" bronze was found 40 years ago in international waters and thus does not belong to Italy. Rutelli disputed that, saying the statue was recovered off Italy's coast.

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