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Greece's economic crisis strands sculpture for Washington's Martin Luther King Jr. memorial

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is set to be dedicated next year on the Mall, but because of Greece's economic crisis, the country has been unable to ship the sculpted blocks from China, where they were carved, to the United States.

Officials had been planning for the elements of the sculpture to be assembled in late August or early September, when Lei is scheduled to arrive to apply the finishing touches. After that, the sculpture will be shrouded until its dedication late next year.

The memorial, authorized by Congress in 1996, has survived 14 years of fundraising challenges, artistic controversy and bureaucratic upset.

Complaints came when a Chinese sculptor was selected instead of an American. Then the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a federal panel whose approval is required for monuments and memorials, criticized the sculpture as grim and totalitarian. Then the project was held up by a dispute over architectural security elements. Now this.

Greek officials have said their country has long admired King, especially after a repressive military junta seized power the year before the civil rights leader was assassinated.

"Across the Atlantic, the civil rights movement reached us in the clarion voice of Martin Luther King Jr., and hope stirred in the hearts of many Greek people . . . that 'We', too, 'Shall Overcome,' " Alexandros P. Mallias, former Greek ambassador to the United States, wrote in 2008, commemorating the 40th anniversary of King's assassination.

King, in turn, drew inspiration from ancient Greece, mentioning Plato, Aristotle and Socrates in the famous "Been to the Mountaintop" speech he gave the night before he was slain.

Jackson said he was sympathetic to Greece's financial plight, in which the nation's ailing economy has been devastated by the global recession.

"When they made the promise to us, it was prior to the meltdown," Jackson said Thursday. "I was really hopeful but not really expecting them to pull the rabbit out of the hat."

"My heart goes out to the country at large," he said. "I know there's a special bond between the Greeks and the King legacy."


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