Refusal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons sparks Albanian national pride

The announcement that Albania would not destroy Syria's chemical weapons on its soil was met by cheers from Albanian citizens, who see the decision as a sign the country is taking control of its own politics.

Hektor Pusina/AP
Thousands of Albanians in Tirana, Friday, greet the announcement by Prime Minister Edi Rama saying he turned down a request by the United States to be part of an operation to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, under the supervision of international experts. Albania, a NATO member, was seen as a possible choice since it recently destroyed its own poison gas arsenal.

Albania's surprise rejection of a plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons on its soil is helping rekindle battered national pride.

The refusal of what Prime Minister Edi Rama called a direct US request was widely welcomed Saturday as a sign of the small and impoverished country's maturity in charting its own course.

The troubled country has been closely aligned with the US for over twenty years since the end of a brutal dictatorship in 1991.

Ben Blushi, a senior official in Prime Minister Rama's Socialist Party, told reporters Saturday that "Albania has showed it has a conscience." The opposition also backed the decision.

Rama's announcement Friday was met by cheers from hundreds of protesters on Tirana's streets, some wearing gas masks and waving Albania flags.

"This goes to show to any other force or so-called allies that we may have that they cannot do things over the back of Albanians," said Bekim Kavja, a Tirana resident.

The global chemical weapons watchdog says it is still confident it can eradicate Syria's 1,300-ton arsenal outside the country by the middle of next year. But the refusal leaves open the question of where that will happen.

Russia, which is in the process of destroying its Cold war-era chemical weapons arsenal, has rejected suggestions over the past two months that they could be liquidated on its territory.

The Russian U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last week that "Russia is not going to do the actual destruction of chemical weapons, but Russian participation is quite possible."

Following an Aug. 21 suspected poison gas attack, US Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise offer that Syria could avert US military action by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons" to international control within a week. Russia, Syria's most important ally, and Syrian President Bashar Assad's government quickly agreed on the broad proposal.

Disarmament operation started more than a month ago with inspections. Machinery used to mix chemicals and fill empty munitions was smashed, ending the Syrian government's capability to make new weapons.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says the "most critical" chemicals will be removed from Syria by Dec. 31, 2013.

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