ROME - The Italian government on Tuesday rejected what it called unjustified alarmism over plans to handle nerve agent components from Syria's chemical weapons arsenal at a port in the Calabria region.
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The move, part of an international agreement to eradicate Syrian President Bashar Assad's stocks of chemical agents, has met stiff opposition from local politicians and protests by residents concerned about environmental and health risks.
Some of the most dangerous chemicals from Syria - including components for making Sarin and VX nerve agent, known as priority A chemicals - are due to be transferred at the port of Gioia Tauro in southern Italy next month from a Danish ship onto the US vessel MV Cape Ray, which has been equipped to destroy them at sea.
The government said the port routinely handled thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals every year and the operation would pose no additional safety threat.
Government ministers met mayors from nearby towns and port authorities on Tuesday to reassure them and said booklets of information would be distributed to local residents "to avoid any further unjustified alarmism".
Italy said the level of toxicity of the materials to be transferred was 6.1, a category routinely processed by the port. It said 60 containers of Syrian weapons and materials weighing 560 tonnes would be transferred in an operation that would take between 10 and 24 hours.