Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief

OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu speaks during a ceremony marking the OPCW's 20th anniversary in The Hague, Netherlands, in this photo taken on April 26, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 April 2017

Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief

THE HAGUE: Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.
Ahmet Uzumcu, its director general, said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.
They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhun. “All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations center,” Uzumcu said.
“The mission, if it goes ahead, will not be an easy one. The Syrian regime had enough time to erase whatever traces were left (of the chemical attack). It will have time to do that until the watchdog arrives in Syria,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations expert, told Arab News on Friday.
“The regime has been condemned for using chemical weapons against civilians, and this was proven by the British and the French, who conducted tests on samples taken from the victims. The question is, will there be any accountability based on the results of the new mission,” Al-Shehri added.
The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has “already stated that it would support this mission, actually it has invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.
“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary cease-fire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.
“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”
However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.
The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.
Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed Daesh terrorists had used “sulfur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.
The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.
— With input from AP, AFP


New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

Updated 28 January 2020

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.