France moves to strip Assad of Legion d'Honneur in wake of chemical attacks

DAILY SABAH WITH AFP
ISTANBUL
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In this file photo taken on July 14, 2008 Syrian president Bashar Assad is seen during celebrations for the Bastille Day in Paris. (AFP Photo)
In this file photo taken on July 14, 2008 Syrian president Bashar Assad is seen during celebrations for the Bastille Day in Paris. (AFP Photo)

The French government plans to strip Syrian President Bashar Assad of his Legion d'Honneur, France's most prestigious award, days after participating in airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria.

"The Elysee confirms that a disciplinary procedure for withdrawing the Legion d'Honneur (Legion of Honor) is underway," Macron's office said late Monday.

Assad was decorated with the Legion's highest rank of Grand Croix (Great Cross) by former president Jacques Chirac in 2001, shortly after taking power following the death of his father Hafez Assad.

Only a French president, who by tradition is the top-ranking Legion member, can decide to withdraw the distinction from a foreigner.

About 3,000 people are granted the distinction each year, including 400 foreigners recognized for their "services rendered to France" or for defending human rights, press freedom or other causes, according to the Legion's website.

Assad has been accused of a series of chemical attacks on his own people during the brutal civil war which has torn Syria apart since 2011.

He has become a pariah for Western powers while maintaining the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose military intervention in the conflict gave Assad the upper hand against opposition groups.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) -- headed by Turkish diplomat Ahmet Üzücü, who is a recipient of Legion d'Honneur -- is currently on the ground in Syria carrying out an investigation into the use of chemical weapons.

It is not the first time President Emmanuel Macron has stripped a foreigner of France's highest honor, having moved to withdraw the award from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after a series of accusations of sexual harassment and rape.

Macron had already signaled he planned to crack down on Legion d'Honneur handouts, surprising many in July by awarding just 101 to mark Bastille Day instead of the customary 500-600.

Former president Francois Hollande drew critics' ire by granting the honor to Saudi Arabia's previous crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef in 2016 despite a sharp increase in death sentences by Saudi courts, a punishment France has long deemed inhumane.

In 2010 France made it easier to take back the award, created by Napoleon, from foreigners who have committed "dishonorable acts."

Lance Armstrong lost his after the seven-time Tour de France winner was found to have used performance-enhancing drugs, and fashion designer John Galliano's was pulled in the wake of an alcohol-fueled volley of anti-Semitic slurs.

French citizens are automatically stripped of the Legion of Honor if convicted of crimes leading to prison sentences of at least one year.

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