Cairo wants Berlin to return Nefertiti: official

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Egypt on Monday made an official request for the return from Germany of the bust of fabled Queen Nefertiti, exhibited in Berlin, charging it was taken out of the country illegally.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities head, Zahi Hawass, announced an "official request" for the bust's return, backed by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Culture Minister Faruq Hosni.

The request was sent in a letter to Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the governing body of all state museums in Germany including the Neues Museum in Berlin where the piece is on display.

In 1912, German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt unearthed the bust of the queen, whose beauty made history, on the banks of the Nile.

According to Egypt, the archaeologist immediately realised "the unique nature and artistic quality of this piece, as well as its historical importance," and transported the bust to Germany illegally.

Cairo began to demand the restitution of the Pharaonic-era statue back in the 1930s, but successive German governments, starting with Adolf Hitler, have refused, insisting the piece was legally bought in 1913.

The bust, about 3,400 years old, is at the top of a "wish list" of five major artifacts exhibited abroad that Egypt wants returned as part of its cultural heritage.

"Egypt recognises and appreciates the care and effort undertaken by the government of Germany to preserve and display the painted limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti," Hawass said in a statement.

But he asked that "this unique treasure be returned to the possession of its rightful owners, the Egyptian people."

In December 2009, Friederike Seyfried, a German Egyptologist at the Neues Museum, said Cairo had often aired its demand through the media but never made an official request for Nefertiti's return.

© 2011 AFP

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