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Chemical weapons inspectors collect samples from Syria site

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OPCW inspectors arrived in Damascus just hours before the April 15 strikes but were delayed from visiting the site until Saturday, leading Western officials and Syrian activists to accuse Russia and the Syrian government of staging a cover-up.

“I won’t find any hope in my heart until the Assad regime is held accountable and eradicated from government in Syria,” said Bilal Abou Salah, a Douma media activist who left the town after the government takeover. He said he feared Russian and Syrian government personnel destroyed potential evidence in the two weeks since the alleged attack.

The OPCW said in a statement that it visited “one of the sites” in Douma to collect samples for analysis at agency-designated laboratories, adding it would “consider future steps including another possible visit to Douma.”

It said the mission will draft a report based on the findings, “as well other information and materials collected by the team.”

The OPCW mission is not mandated to apportion to blame for the attack.

A U.N. security team had scouted Douma on Tuesday to see if it was safe for weapons inspectors to visit. The team came under small arms and explosives fire, leading the agency to delay its mission.

Journalists visiting Douma the previous day, escorted by government minders, experienced no security issues.

Russian ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the delays to the OPCW team were “unacceptable,” in a statement Saturday.

Douma is just minutes away from Damascus, where the OPCW team is based.

Images emerging from Douma in the hours after the attack showed lifeless bodies collapsed in crowded rooms, some with foam around their noses and mouths.

Abou Salah entered one of the buildings affected by the alleged gas attack the following day and took footage of a yellow cylinder with a gas valve on the top floor. He said it had crashed through the roof and showed a gash in the ceiling where it purportedly came through.

His assertions could not be independently verified. But the cylinder looked like others identified by the international NGO Human Rights Watch at other locations of chlorine gas attacks attributed to the government in 2016.

Raed Saleh, the head of the Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his organization had shared the coordinates of the graves of April 7 victims with the OPCW, so that inspectors could take biological samples.

Civil Defense workers evacuated Douma after the attack, fearing persecution by the security services of the government. The government says the group is a terrorist organization. The group, which operates in opposition areas only, maintains a strong position against Assad.

Thousands of people — rebels and civilians — left Douma on buses to north Syria in the days after the attack, believing they could not live under government authority after it retook the town. North Syria is divided between opposition, Turkish, and al-Qaida control.

The evacuations were the latest in a string of population transfers around the Syrian capital that have displaced more than 60,000 people as the government reconsolidates control after seven years of civil war.

U.N. officials and human rights groups say the evacuations amount to a forced population displacement that may be a war crime.

On Saturday, rebels began evacuating three towns in the eastern Qalamoun region in the Damascus countryside, state TV reported.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said 35 buses left the towns of Ruhaiba, Jayroud, and al-Nasriya carrying hundreds of rebels and their families to opposition territory in north Syria.

The station said there could be 3,200 rebels leaving three towns on Saturday. It said the evacuations would continue for three days.

Syrian government forces will take over the towns once the departures are complete.

Associated Press writers Michael Corder in The Hague and James Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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How a process using carbon dioxide could stop your wine from spoiling

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Whether it’s a dry Chablis or punchy, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, a glass or two of quality wine can be one of life’s small pleasures.

A phenomenon known as “cork taint” can, however, create a host of problems including rancid smells and an off-putting taste.

It’s a problem that Fredérique Vaquer, a winemaker in the south of France, has first-hand experience of.

“One time, I was with a lot of customers, it was a very important tasting and I opened a magnum,” she told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy.

“I had only one magnum … normally, it’s a beautiful wine and that time it was ‘corky’.”

When it comes to cork tainted wine, the chemical compound 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA, which can make its way into the cork, plays a significant role.

However, in France, a firm called Diam Bouchage has been developing a process that looks to tackle the issue head on through the use of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Dominique Tourneix, the company’s CEO, explained that its system addressed the problem by using pressurized, “supercritical” CO2.

According to a video demonstration on its website, Diam Bouchage takes this supercritical CO2 — a fluid state of carbon dioxide — and injects it into an autoclave containing granulated cork that’s been pre-sifted.

The idea is that the CO2 passes through the cork, removing all the substances, including TCA, that could taint wine.

The CO2 itself is then “removed, filtered and … recycled in a closed circuit,” while the cleaned and purified cork grain is turned into stoppers at a manufacturing site. Diam Bouchage has also developed a product range which incorporates beeswax and a bio-based binding agent. 

In his interview with CNBC, CEO Dominique Tourneix explained how by-products of the company’s process could also be recycled and reused. 

“Different companies are actually purchasing our extract coming from the cork to use the extract for their cosmetic applications,” he said.

The power of green chemistry

Diam Bouchage’s use of nature-based solutions such as beeswax within an industrial and manufacturing context is also interesting.

Some of the company’s work encompasses so-called “green chemistry.” A relatively broad term, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has defined it as “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.”

Paul Anastas is director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. Together with John Warner — a chemist who is now president and chief technology officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry — Anastas co-authored the book “Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice,” a key body of work in the field.

Speaking to CNBC’s Sustainable Energy, he was asked about the relationship between business and science when it came to green chemistry.

“People think I’m joking when they ask, ‘how did you come up with this name, green chemistry, all those years ago?’,” he explained. 

“And I say it’s true that green is the color of the environment but here in the U.S. it’s also the color of our money,” he added.

“So this was about how you accomplish both goals at the same time, that you align environmental and health goals with your economic and profitability goals.”

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China is set to join FTSE World Government Bond Index in October 2021

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A Chinese national flag seen in front of Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai on September 8, 2019.

Alex Tai | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Major index provider FTSE Russell said Thursday it will add Chinese government bonds to its flagship World Government Bond Index from October next year — a development that will bring billions of dollars of inflows into China.  

The inclusion — which will be China’s third entry into a major global bond index — comes at a time when investors are hunting for yield in an environment of ultra-low interest rates. Several investors estimated that at least $100 billion will flow into China after its bonds debut on the FTSE Russell index.

“I think this is another important landmark in China’s … internationalization of their domestic financial markets,” Ben Powell, BlackRock Investment Institute’s chief investment strategist for Asia Pacific, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Friday.

He pointed out that 10-year Chinese government bonds are yielding around 3% which is “a very high number in the global context.”

Boosting foreign participation

China’s roughly $16 trillion bond market is the second largest globally, but is under-owned by international investors.

Pan Gongsheng, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China and director of State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said in a statement that international investors held 2.8 trillion yuan ($410.69 billion) of Chinese bonds as at end August. That’s less than 3% of the entire Chinese bond market.

Chinese authorities have implemented significant improvements to the fixed income market infrastructure to expand access to international investors.

Joining the FTSE World Government Bond Index could further increase foreign investor participation in the Chinese bond market, which will also boost the yuan, according to Hong Kong-based CSOP Asset Management. The company said the Chinese yuan will be the fourth largest currency in the index, after the U.S. dollar, euro and Japanese yen.

FTSE Russell said it will confirm in March the exact date when Chinese government bonds will debut on its index. Before FTSE, Chinese government bonds had been added to the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index and the J.P. Morgan Government Bond Index-Emerging Markets.

“Chinese authorities have implemented significant improvements to the fixed income market infrastructure to expand access to international investors,” FTSE Russell said in a statement announcing its decision on China.   

Those improvements include enhancing liquidity in the bond market, allowing additional choice of counterparties in foreign exchange trading, and better post-trade settlement processes, the company added.

— CNBC’s Eustance Huang contributed to this report. 

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The EU announces its first ever plan to regulate cryptocurrencies

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