It’s worrying for peaceful protest leading to democracy worldwide if a new and more dangerous form of tear-gas is being sold to militaries. But if what the Tahrir Square protestors in Egypt are saying is true, they’re being subjected to a new tear gas which should come with a government health warning.
They’re claiming that along with police brutality, live rounds, sexual abuse and torture, a new and more potentially lethal type of tear gas is being used on the protestors. One medical volunteer at a field hospital on the edge of the square said he saw people suffering problems with their nervous systems and epileptic fits. Others said people were coughing up blood and collapsing.
The toxic gas is allegedly killing activists exposed to large quantities, and survivors are reporting seizures and coughing up blood for hours after being exposed.
Alix Dunn, an American who spent the past two years in Cairo, has created a petition on Change.org asking the Combined Tactical Systems Corporation (CTS), the teargas manufacturer, to stop selling their crowd control products to the Egyptian military junta.
Protests are already being organised outside the company’s office in New York City, and media outlets like The Guardian and Huffington Post are already asking tough questions.
Grounds for stopping the illegal export and use of the product could be based on the little-known Kellogg-Briand Treaty, signed in 1928, by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Weimar Germany and a number of other countries.
The types of gases poisoning the air of Tahrir Square are no longer used in most of the world because of their potential to kill. In the hands of a military government willing to violently disperse peaceful protesters, it’s an especially lethal combination.
What is tear gas?
The chemical compound previously used in most tear gas canisters is known as CS, and is often used as a means of crowd control by military and police units to force people to disperse quickly.
There are other, stronger chemical structures of the gas. One is called CN, which was a precursor of CS. And then there is CR, which is known to be a particularly potent version that is six times more powerful than CS. CR gas is rarely used and it’s banned in the US because it can cause cancer.
“None of the cans we saw had evidence they were the more poisonous CR or CN gas. Indeed, of the many journalists and human rights activists investigating the issue, none has come up with a used canister of CR or CN gas.”
However, it may not say what it is on the tin. Armanents are continually being updated and upgraded, and Combined Tactical Systems, the manufacturers of the Tahrir Square tear gas, offers “a full line of chemical irritant and smoke munitions” including a “launched burning projectile round that dispenses smoke or chemical agents via rapid burning.”
There is a new CR gas which is much stronger than CR tear gas.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons based in The Hague says a much stronger tear gas than normal has been used – alongside the less powerful conventional tear gas. The OPCW’s Michael Luhan:
“The agent that has reportedly been used in Egypt is CR. CR gas has much greater irritating properties than the older and more commonly used CS tear gas while at the same time being actually less toxic. ”
CR gas can cause fever, (temporary) blindness, facial paralysis and, in the worst cases, suffocation. Unlike conventional tear gas, its effects cannot be alleviated by rinsing with water. It is, however, less poisonous than conventional tear gas.
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