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George Clooney, Bill Murray wade into Elgin marbles debate

A heartfelt political statement, or a bit of PR provocation in the service of their new movie, "The Monuments Men"?

George Clooney, Bill Murray and Matt Damon recently waded into the centuries-old debate concerning the Elgin marbles, a series of ancient sculptures and reliefs that were removed from the Parthenon and other locations in Greece and transported to England, where they have resided for 200 years.

Despite pressure to return the artifacts, British authorities have repeatedly said the marbles will remain at their home in the British Museum.

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At a press event at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday, Clooney told a reporter that he thought returning the Elgin marbles to Greece is the "right thing to do."

Clooney directed, co-wrote, co-produced and stars in "The Monuments Men," about the effort to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazis during World War II.

His statement provoked a reaction from a member of Britain's Parliament,  who suggested that Clooney may not be sufficiently informed on the subject to make public statements.

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John Whittingdale, the chairman of Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told Britain's Independent that "I'm a great admirer of George Clooney, but I suspect that he probably doesn't know the history of the Elgin marbles and the legal entitlement that Britain has to them.

"He's an American," Whittingdale added. "I suspect he doesn't know why it is that Britain came to acquire the Elgin marbles. There's a very strong view in this country that they should stay" in the United Kingdom.

The Elgin marbles were brought to England in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. The artifacts were purchased by Parliament from Lord Elgin in 1816, according to the British Museum.

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Critics maintain that the marbles were looted and should be repatriated to Greece.

On Tuesday, Clooney reiterated his position at a press event for "The Monuments Men" in London, saying that institutions like the Getty Museum  in Los Angeles and the Vatican Museums have returned artwork in the past.

Murray, who costars in "Monuments Men," seemed to back his director on Tuesday by wisecracking, "London's gotten crowded.... There's plenty of room in Greece. England could take the lead on this."

Damon, another "Monuments Men" costar, also took Clooney's side, telling reporters Tuesday that Whittingdale's comments "can't always be the British default setting. It's not actually an argument to say, 'He's American, he doesn't get it.' "

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