Syria destroys chemical weapons facilities on schedule

October 31, 2013

Syria meets its first disarmament deadline, Putin cracks down on Salafists ahead of Winter Olympics, and Maduro mulls Venezuela’s motorcycle problem. Today is spooky Thursday, October 31, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands, the newly appointed Special Coordinator of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations speaks to the media after meeting Syrian officials in Damascus, October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Disarmament deadline met. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reports that Syria has destroyed or made inoperable all facilities used to mix and produce chemical arms, meeting a November 1 deadline that is part of Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament agreement:

The next deadline is November 15, by when the OPCW and Syria must agree to a detailed plan of destruction, including how and where to destroy more than 1,000 metric tonnes of toxic agents and munitions. Under a Russian-American brokered deal, Damascus agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to the killing of hundreds of people in a sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. It was the world’s deadliest chemical weapons incident since Saddam Hussein’s forces used poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja 25 years ago. “This was a major milestone in the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program,” Ralf Trapp, an independent chemical weapons disarmament specialist, said.

The inspections team investigated 21 of 23 sites, skipping two that were too dangerous to check, but noting that the weapons there had been moved to sites that they were able to visit. Under the agreement, Syria must destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014. Diplomatic sources reported that long-delayed peace talks to discuss a solution to Syria’s civil war are likely to be stalled again. The talks, initially proposed in May, were to be held in Geneva on November 23 but now could take place up to a month later. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government is subject to sanctions by the United States, but is able to reach global markets and get access to food, arms and oil via Russian banks. The Kremlin has remained Assad’s ally, and clashes between Russian and Western leaders over Assad’s future in Syria have contributed to delaying the peace conference. Below, OPCW inspectors train in Germany:

Inspectors of the OPCW look after mock victims after an explosion during a training scenario at the United Nations training center at the German Bundeswehr barracks in Wildflecken, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Sochi safety crackdown. Russian officials are clamping down on an Islamist insurgency in Dagestan ahead of the Sochi Olympics in February, moving away from previous attempts at dialogue with Salafist Muslims.

Abdurakhim Magomedov, a Salafi preacher who ran a woman’s madrassa, speaks during an interview inside his house in Novosasitli village in the Dagestan region, September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji

According to locals in the North Caucasus, Russian officials have been taking saliva samples from conservative Muslim women to be able to identify their body parts in a suicide attack. An October 21 suicide bombing that killed six people in a major city north of Sochi was blamed on a Dagestan woman, and an October 25 ruling by parliament increases punishment for militant attacks by holding the attacker’s relatives responsible for paying damages. The Kremlin dismissed Dagestan’s leader in January, and has since walked back his flexible religious policies which allowed Salafi leaders to open religious schools and set up rehabilitation programs for rebels. Some fear the crackdown may backfire by prompting an increase in violent attacks.

Maduro’s Motorizado problem. Hordes of Venezuelan motorcyclists, called “motorizados,” are credited with providing quick, cheap transport in gridlocked roads and blamed for increasing violent incidents and road accidents in the country, presenting a problem for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Motorcycle taxi drivers wait for customers in Caracas, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva.

The government plans to meet with motorizado groups in order to agree on basic road rules and to propose laws that could ban late-night driving, block motorcycles from freeways and implement parking restrictions. The number of motorcycles in Venezuela increased sharply over the last 10 years thanks to Chavez-era deals with China.

Nota bene: U.S. spy chiefs defend surveillance by saying Europeans were complicit.


Happiness branch – Venezuela establishes a Vice-Ministry for Supreme Social Happiness of the People. (Foreign Policy)

Move over, Obama – Forbes names Putin the most powerful man of 2013. (Forbes)

Booze brink – We are facing a global wine shortage. (BBC)

Poverty pull – Tourists flock to Brazil’s slums. (Newsweek)

Back to the future – Germany’s bike of the future looks kind of old school. (The Atlantic Cities)

From the File:

  • More than 80 migrants found dead in Sahara after failed crossing.
  • Khmer Rouge duo deny ‘Killing Fields’ role as case nears end.
  • Czech leader back in talks to form government.
  • Zimbabwe court scraps controversial Mugabe insult law.
  • China state media calls for stern action after Tiananmen attack.
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