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Uber CEO’s Defense of Saudi Murder Sparks Calls for Boycott

Molly Schuetz

(Bloomberg) -- Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview on the television show “Axios on HBO” that the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “a mistake” by the Saudi Arabian government, and compared it to Uber’s accident with a self-driving car that killed a woman.

In the interview that aired Sunday, Khosrowshahi said, “It doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven.” The CEO backtracked in a follow-up statement sent to Axios after the interview, saying: “I said something in the moment that I don’t believe.” He called Khashoggi’s murder “reprehensible” and said it “should not be forgotten.”

The remarks set off calls for customers to protest the ride-hailing service. The hashtag #BoycottUber was trending on Twitter in the U.S. Monday. The response is drawing parallels to a politically motivated boycott from 2017, when Uber’s perceived support of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies led to a #DeleteUber campaign. More than 200,000 people removed the app during that movement.

Khosrowshahi’s comments came during a discussion about Uber’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is the ride-hailing car company’s fifth-largest investor. The Axios interviewer, Mike Allen, asked if Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, who heads Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, should be allowed to remain on Uber’s board. Khosrowshahi called Al-Rumayyan a “very constructive” board member who provides valuable input.

As the interview continued, the discussion turned to the Saudi government’s role in Khashoggi’s gruesome murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. “I think that the government said they made a mistake,” Khosrowshahi said. “It’s a serious mistake. We’ve made mistakes too with self driving and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake. So I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven.”

In March 2018 one of Uber’s cars testing autonomous driving software struck and killed a 49-year-old woman in Tempe, Arizona, as she was crossing the road. Uber paused tests of all its self-driving vehicles after the incident.

(Update with Twitter hashtag in the third paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Molly Schuetz in New York at mschuetz9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Mark Milian, Anne VanderMey

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