Updated at: 11/16/2013 11:05 AM
By NEBI QENA
(AP) TIRANA, Albania - 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise offer that Syria could avert U.S. 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.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)