Italian mayors want guarantees on Syrian chemical transfer

ROME Fri Jan 17, 2014 8:00am EST

ROME Jan 17 (Reuters) - Mayors of Italian towns near the port designated as a transit site for Syria's chemical arsenal said on Friday they would protest at the decision unless they were guaranteed maximum security against any environmental or health risk.

"We want to make sure safety measures are at the maximum level and we want the government to better inform us so we can reassure our residents. If we are not better informed, then there will be protests," said Rosarno Mayor Elisabetta Tripodi.

The chemicals are being sent to Italy under an accord brokered by Russia and the United States after poison gas attacks in Syria's civil war in August that killed hundreds of people. The nerve gas agents are to be later destroyed at sea.

The Italian government has chosen Gioia Tauro, the country's biggest container port located in the southern region of Calabria, to move 560 tonnes of Syria's "priority A" chemicals from a Danish ship to an American one.

Mayor Domenico Madaferri of San Ferdinando, the town closest to Gioia Tauro, initially threatened to block the facility while others mayors appeared more flexible. "I'm realistic. I know we cannot block the port whose operations are very important for the local economy," Tripodi told Reuters.

Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi and Foreign Minister Emma Bonino have both said regional fears are unfounded, noting that around 30,000 tonnes of equally dangerous chemicals passed through the port without incident last year.

"It's only right to involve the mayors, the local administrators and the region," Lupi said on Friday. "Together we can better guarantee safety."

Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the world's chemical weapons watchdog, has said the entire operation would take no more than 48 hours and that the chemicals would not be stored at the port but only transferred from one ship to another. (Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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