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Crete protest at toxic dumping

- by Andy Cornish

Fears for clean seas as Nato plans to dump chemicals.

Plans to dump chemical weapons stockpiled by Syria in the seas off southern Crete have triggered alarm and protest. Around 20 tons of mustard gas and other neurotoxic agents will be dumped in international waters between Gavdos, a tiny island off the southern shore of Crete and Malta.

Scientists say seawater will neutralise the toxic chemicals which will be flushed through a hydrolysis process.

But nearly 10,000 Cretans from all over the island turned up to a protest rally against the plans to dump Syria's chemical weapons in the Mediterranean Sea so close to the island.

The rally was staged in Arkadi, a small village in the highlands of Crete that is famous for it stand against Ottoman occupiers 150 years ago.

The protest marks the island's outrage at the international operation, which demonstrators claim is a deadly threat to the environment of Crete and to their livelihood.

Under an agreement brokered by the United States and Russia, all of Syria's chemical arsenal must be decommissioned and destroyed by June 30 -- a goal that is becoming increasingly unlikely to be missed.

The plan is to dump toxic chemicals offshore from a 648-foot U.S. Navy ship MV Cape Ray acting as a mobile station for destroying chemical weapons.

The Greek government has accepted UN's assurances that everything will go according to plan and there is no threat to fish stocks or to the southern shore of the island, famous for its pristine beaches and clean waters.

But Cretans, worried about the future of the environment plan to take action against the scheme. Boats are expected to sail from the Crete ports of Sfakia and Gavdos to attempt to block any ships carrying the chemicals.

"We will not let this happen," said protest organizer Yannis Haronitis "They want to destroy these weapons, well let them turn Syria's backyard into a toxic waste dump, not ours."

Albania, Thailand, Belgium, Germany, Norway have all refused to destroy chemical weapons on their territory so now the UN plans to dump them in international waters

The UN says that NATO starts on-board destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons somewhere between Crete and Malta. but exactly where and when remains unknown.

Scientist say the chemicals will be diluted with water in combination with solvents such as chlorine. The resulting liquid remains toxic and corrosive, just not toxic enough to kill directly.

The disposal of hazardous waste at sea is prohibited under international agreements but it can be permitted in exceptional circumstances by military ships under UN treaties.

But protesters warn that there are no studies on the implications of an accident during this unprecedented military operation and have serious concerns about the impact of the discharge or leakage of this volume of chemicals into the Mediterranean.

They claim governments risk poisoning and killing marine stocks by launching an unprecedented dangerous experiment in the closed sea of the Mediterranean.