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Uber faces boycott threats after CEO calls Jamal Khashoggi's murder a "mistake"

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is under fire for calling the murder of a Washington Post columnist a "mistake," despite his attempts to curb the damage from his comments.

Khosrowshahi, who also compared the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi to the death of a pedestrian hit by one of his company's autonomous vehicles, on Monday said he regretted the comments, made during an interview with Axios on HBO. He tweeted that there's no forgiving or forgetting what happened to the murdered journalist and he was wrong to call it a mistake.

Still, #BoycottUber began to trend Monday on Twitter, with some critics taking to social media to bash Khosrowshahi's words while suggesting that they were meant to downplay Khashoggi's grisly murder in order to mollify one of the company's largest investors.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, holds about $1.9 billion worth of Uber stock, making it the company's fifth largest stakeholder. Its managing director, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, sits on Uber's board.

"This is what happens when you're a greedy CEO and a murderous regime is your 5th largest shareholder," said one Twitter user in urging a boycott of the ride-hailing company. 

The effort brings to mind the #DeleteUber movement that gathered steam several years ago as the company struggled with image problems and lost customers to rival Lyft.

Officials with the U.S. and the United Nations suspect that Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in Khashoggi's slaying. Prince Mohammed has said he takes full responsibility but denied ordering the killing, calling the slaying "a mistake" in an interview in September.

In his Axios interview that aired Sunday, Khosrowshahi echoed those comments, saying "I think that government said that they made a mistake." He then compared Khashoggi's slaying to an accident in which one of Uber's autonomous vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian last year.

"It's a serious mistake. We've made mistakes, too, with self-driving [vehicles], and we stopped driving and we're recovering from that mistake," Khosrowshahi said. "So I think that people make mistakes, it doesn't mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they've taken it seriously."

Jamal Khashoggi remembered one year after gruesome murder 01:58

In his Monday tweet, Khosrowshahi said he told Axios after the interview: "I said something in the moment I don't believe. Our investors have long known my views here & I'm sorry I wasn't as clear on Axios."

Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by individuals identified as Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor last year at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He was a longtime editor at state-linked newspapers in Saudi Arabia and had been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. while writing critically about Saudi leadership, often for the Washington Post. 

A U.N. investigator said the Saudi journalist was the victim of "a planned, organized, well-resourced and premeditated extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia must bear responsibility."

Khosrowshahi was brought in as Uber's CEO to turn around a company plagued with self-inflicted wounds. Co-founder Travis Kalanick was ousted as CEO in 2017 after revelations arose about rampant internal sexual harassment, accusations that drivers had assaulted passengers, and a cover-up of a computer break-in that stole personal information about its passengers, among other problems.

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