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Global chemical watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize

  • Director General of the OPCW, Ahmet Uzumcu comments on the organization being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, during a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday Oct. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Efforts to eliminate chemical weapons won a Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for the global watchdog trying to destroy Syria's stockpiles of nerve gas and other poisonous agents.

By giving its prestigious prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee turned the spotlight both on Syria's devastating civil war and on a type of weapon that has horrified nations since World War I.

The reaction in Syria was notably polarized. A senior Syrian rebel called the award a "premature step" that will divert the world's attention from "the real cause of the war" while a lawmaker from Syria's ruling party declared the Nobel to be a vindication of President Bashir Assad's government.

The OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons. Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it has largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the U.N. called upon its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

"The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law," the Nobel Committee said in Oslo. "Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons."

Friday's award comes just days before Syria officially joins as OPCW's 190th member state on Monday. OPCW inspectors are already on a risky U.N.-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy the government's arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents.

"Events in Syria have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work still to be done," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu (AKH'-meht ooh-ZOOM'-joo) told reporters in The Hague. "Our hearts go out to the Syrian people who were recently victims of the horror of chemical weapons."

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