Teen gunman who killed 10 at Texas school planned suicide: governor

Police keep a roadblock on a main road to Santa Fe High School where police found explosives after an early morning shool shooting that left several people dead in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Trish Badger

By Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – Texas officials charged a 17-year-old student with murder in the shooting of 10 people, including fellow pupils, at his high school on Friday in an attack similar to the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this year.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting is shown in this booking photo at the Galveston County Jail, released by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. Courtesy Galveston County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

Students said a gunman, identified by law enforcement as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, opened fire in a classroom at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, and that they fled in panic after seeing classmates wounded and a fire alarm triggered a full evacuation. Ten people were hurt in the attack, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

It was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office identified Pagourtzis and said he had been charged with capital murder in a post on its Facebook page. More charges could follow.

Speaking to reporters before the teen was identified, Abbott told reporters that the suspect had used a shotgun and a .38 revolver taken from his father in the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school.

“Not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting,” Abbott said, citing a police review of the suspect’s journals. “He didn’t have the courage to commit suicide.”

Two other people are in custody, Abbott said.

Investigators are talking to the suspect, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said.

Abbott said that investigators had seen a T-shirt on the suspect’s Facebook page that read “Born to Kill.”

Explosive devices had also been found at the school, located about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston, and off campus, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted.

Police were searching two homes and a vehicle linked to the suspect, where they have found multiple homemade explosive devices, Abbott said.

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff’s Office/via REUTERS

‘THE GUY BEHIND ME WAS DEAD’

Courtney Marshall, a 15-year-old freshman at the school, said the gunman came into her art class shooting.

“I wanted to take care of my friends, but I knew I had to get out of there,” Marshall said, saying that she saw at least one person hit. “I knew the guy behind me was dead.”

Orlando Gonzalez said that his 16-year-old son Keaton, fled the attack, but one of his friends was shot and wounded.

“I was really worried, I didn’t know what was going on … I almost couldn’t drive,” Gonzalez said. “I just imagine what he’s going through … He’s still scared.”

The school has some 1,462 students, according to federal education data.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre “absolutely horrific.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

 

At least eight dead, explosives found in Texas school shooting: sheriff

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

By Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – At least eight people died in a shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school on Friday and police searching the building said they had taken into custody a student suspected of the attack and found explosives in the school building.

The sound of gunshots tore through the air at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, witnesses told local media, and live TV images showed lines of students evacuating the building while heavily armed police responded to the scene.

The incident was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that eight to 10 people, both students and adults, died in the incident at the school about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston.

“There is one person, a suspect, in custody and a second possible person of interest that is detained and being questioned,” Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Explosive devices had also been found at the school and off campus, Gonzalez tweeted. “Law enforcement is in the process of rendering them safe. School has been evacuated.”

The suspect is a 17-year-old male, a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told Reuters.

At least nine people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, hospital officials said. The conditions of those people was not immediately clear. Gonzalez said a police officer was also being treated for injuries.

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 a.m. local time (1245 GMT) and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

‘WE ALL TOOK OFF’

A male student, who did not identify himself, described fleeing the scene in an interview with CBS affiliate KHOU.

“Three shots that I heard, so we all took off in the back and I tried to get into the trees, I didn’t want to be in sight. I heard four more shots, and then we jumped the fence to somebody’s house,” the student said.

Another sophomore, Dakota Shrader, told Fox 26 TV her 17-year-old girlfriend told her by phone that she was wounded but was recovering in a hospital. “My friend got injured,” said an emotional Shrader. “Her leg, she got shot in the leg.”

Dr. David Marshall, chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said that the hospital was treating at least three patients – two adults and one person under 18. He said it was not immediately clear if that child was a student.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre heartbreaking.

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

Waffle House shooting shows pitfalls in patchwork of U.S. gun laws

FILE PHOTO: Metro Davidson County Police inspect the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – When Travis Reinking’s semi-automatic rifle was confiscated after his attempt to enter the White House last year, he simply moved from Illinois to nearby Tennessee where signs of mental illness are no bar to gun ownership.

How and when Reinking’s father returned the AR-15-style weapon and other firearms to his 29-year-old son, accused of shooting dead four people and wounding four at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee remain unclear.

Confusing as well are the myriad of U.S. state gun laws that can make it difficult to stop crimes like Sunday’s mass shooting.

The U.S. federal system leaves it up to states to set most gun laws. Less than half of U.S. states require background checks before private sales, and only a small number require “universal checks” for all purchases, including at gun shows.

Virginia has improved mental health reporting after a 2007 college campus massacre but has no laws requiring firearms to be registered. Alaska, with the highest state rate of gun deaths per capita, does not allow firearms to be registered. Most states let residents carry firearms in public, and all states permit the carrying of concealed weapons in some form.

The assault on Sunday is the latest mass killing to stoke a fierce debate that pits gun control proponents against gun rights advocates who defend constitutional rights to own guns.

The debate has sharpened since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That massacre prompted an upsurge of teenage gun control activism, including a nationwide student walkout on April 20, two days before the Nashville shooting.

The discussion has aired demands for national laws that would provide uniformity, including regulations on the transport of guns from state to state, as with the Reinking case.

“We need to have national laws that protect against these over-the-border kinds of transfers,” said Illinois state Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who is sponsoring “red flag” legislation to let family members request the seizure of firearms from relatives facing mental health problems.

MENTAL ILLNESS

The variety of ways that gun laws address mental illness has prompted concern. A study by Mother Jones magazine showed that in 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental health problems before the killings.

Reinking himself has a troubled past. He believed that pop singer Taylor Swift was stalking him and threatened to kill himself, according to police records.

The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful gun-rights lobbying organization, says it supports legislation to ensure records of those judged mentally incompetent or “involuntarily committed to mental institutions” be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks.

“The NRA will support any reasonable step to fix America’s broken mental health system without intruding on the constitutional rights of Americans,” the group says on its website.

That support stops short of legislation like Willis’ red flag bill with its “insinuation that gun ownership makes you a danger to yourself or others,” the group said last month.

Illinois is unusual in giving law enforcement the right to revoke a gun license and take away guns from persons if their mental health appears to pose a danger. In Tennessee, like most states, police can only seize guns if a person is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility and judged a danger. Even then, the owner can keep their firearms.

In Reinking’s case, Illinois state police revoked his gun license, and his firearms were transferred to his father after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him last year for being in a restricted area near the White House.

Authorities have not disclosed whether his father gave him back his guns in Illinois, where it would likely be a crime, or in Tennessee, where it would not.

The U.S. Congress has not passed any substantive national gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, due in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups.

Yet some gun-control advocates see steady movement towards uniform gun laws through actions at the state level.

“Our movement is chipping away and convincing lawmakers that they should be voting for public safety,” said Jonas Oransky deputy legal director of gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

For example, after the Waffle House shooting, Tennessee lawmakers drafted legislation to make it illegal to buy or possess a gun if a person had been subject to “suspension, revocation or confiscation” in another state.

For Illinois lawmaker Willis, it is too little too late.

“All the red flags were there. They followed all the gun laws in Illinois,” she said. “Until we have national laws to restrict this, it’s not going to stop.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

How the families of 10 massacred Rohingya fled Myanmar

Rehana Khatun, whose husband Nur Mohammed was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture with her child at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 25, 2018. Picture taken March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

By Andrew R.C. Marshall

KUTUPALONG REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Rehana Khatun dreamed her husband came home. He appeared without warning in their village in western Myanmar, outside their handsome wooden house shaded by mango trees. “He didn’t say anything,” she said. “He was only there for a few seconds, and then he was gone.” Then Rehana Khatun woke up.

She woke up in a shack of ragged tarpaulin on a dusty hillside in Bangladesh. Her husband, Nur Mohammed, is never coming home. He was one of 10 Rohingya Muslim men massacred last September by Myanmar soldiers and Rakhine Buddhists at the coastal village of Inn Din.

Rehana Khatun’s handsome wooden house is gone, too. So is everything in it. The Rohingya homes in Inn Din were burned to the ground, and what was once a close-knit community, with generations of history in Myanmar, is now scattered across the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh.

A Reuters investigation in February revealed what happened to the 10 Rohingya men. On September 1, soldiers snatched them from a large group of Rohingya villagers detained by a beach near Inn Din. The next morning, according to eyewitnesses, the men were shot by the soldiers or hacked to death by their Rakhine Buddhist neighbors. Their bodies were dumped in a shallow grave.

The relatives the 10 men left behind that afternoon wouldn’t learn of the killings for many months – in some cases, not until Reuters reporters tracked them down in the refugee camps and told them what had happened. The survivors waited by the beach with rising anxiety and dread as the sun set and the men didn’t return.

This is their story. Three of them fled Inn Din while heavily pregnant. All trekked north in monsoon rain through forests and fields. Drenched and terrified, they dodged military patrols and saw villages abandoned or burning. Some saw dead bodies. They walked for days with little food or water.

They were not alone. Inn Din’s families joined nearly 700,000 Rohingya escaping a crackdown by the Myanmar military, launched after attacks by Rohingya militants on August 25. The United Nations called it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” which Myanmar has denied.

On Tuesday, the military said it had sentenced seven soldiers to long prison terms for their role in the Inn Din massacre. Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told Reuters the move was a “very positive step” that showed the military “won’t give impunity for those who have violated the rules of engagement.” Myanmar, he said, doesn’t allow systematic human rights abuses.

Reuters was able to corroborate many but not all details of the personal accounts in this story.

The Rohingya streamed north until they reached the banks of the Naf River. On its far shore lay Bangladesh, and safety. Many Inn Din women gave boatmen their jewelry to pay for the crossing; others begged and fought their way on board. They made the perilous crossing at night, vomiting with sickness and fear.

Now in Bangladesh, they struggle to piece together their lives without husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Seven months have passed since the massacre, but the grief of Inn Din’s survivors remains raw. One mother told Reuters her story, then fainted.

Like Rehana Khatun, they all say they dream constantly about the dead. Some dreams are bittersweet – a husband coming home, a son praying in the mosque – and some are nightmares. One woman says she sees her husband clutching a stomach wound, blood oozing through his fingers.

Daytime brings little relief. They all remember, with tormenting clarity, the day the soldiers took their men away.

“ALLAH SAVED ME”

Abdul Amin still wonders why he was spared.

Soldiers had arrived at Inn Din on August 27 and started torching the houses of Rohingya residents with the help of police and Rakhine villagers. Amin, 19, said he and his family sought refuge in a nearby forest with more than a hundred other Rohingya.

Four days later, as Inn Din burned and the sound of gunfire crackled through the trees, they made a dash for the beach, where hundreds of villagers gathered in the hope of escaping the military crackdown. Then the soldiers appeared, said Amin, and ordered them to squat with their heads down.

Amin crouched next to his mother, Nurasha, who threw her scarf over his head. The soldiers ignored Amin, perhaps mistaking him for a woman, but dragged away his brother Shaker Ahmed. “I don’t know why they chose him and not me,” Amin said. “Allah saved me.”

The soldiers, according to Amin and other witnesses, said they were taking the men away for a “meeting.” Their distraught families waited by the beach in vain. As night fell, they returned to the forest where, in the coming days, they made the decision that haunts many of them still: to save themselves and their families by fleeing to Bangladesh – and leaving the captive men behind.

Abdu Shakur waited five days for the soldiers to release his son Rashid Ahmed, 18. By then, most Rohingya had set out for Bangladesh and the forest felt lonely and exposed. Abdu Shakur said he wanted to leave, too, but his wife, Subiya Hatu, refused.

“I won’t go without my son,” she said.

“You must come with me,” he said. “If we stay here, they’ll kill us all.” They had three younger children to bring to safety, he told her. Rashid was their oldest, a bright boy who loved to study; he would surely be released soon and follow them. He didn’t. Rashid was one of the 10 killed in the Inn Din massacre.

“We did the right thing,” says Abdu Shakur today, in a shack in the Kutupalong camp. “I feel terrible, but we had to leave that place.” As he spoke, his wife sat behind him and sobbed into her headscarf.

“DAY OF JUDGMENT”

By now, the northward exodus was gathering pace. The Rohingya walked in large groups, sometimes thousands strong, stretching in ragged columns along the wild Rakhine coastline. At night, the men stood guard while women and children rested beneath scraps of tarpaulin. Rain often made sleep impossible.

Amid this desperate throng was Shaker Ahmed’s wife, Rahama Khatun, who was seven months pregnant, and their eight children, aged one to 18. Like many Rohingya, they had escaped Inn Din with little more than the clothes they wore. “We brought nothing from the house, not even a single plate,” she said.

They survived the journey by drinking from streams and scrounging food from other refugees. Rahama said she heaved herself along slippery paths as quickly as she could. She was scared about the health of her unborn child, but terrified of getting left behind.

Rahama’s legs swelled up so much that she couldn’t walk. “My children carried me on their shoulders. They said, ‘We’ve lost our father. We don’t want to lose you.'” Then they reached the beach at Na Khaung To, and a new ordeal began.

Na Khaung To sits on the Myanmar side of the Naf River. Bangladesh is about 6 km (4 miles) away. For Rohingya from Inn Din and other coastal villages, Na Khaung To was the main crossing point.

It was also a bottleneck. There were many Bangladeshi fishing boats to smuggle Rohingya across the river, but getting on board depended on the money or valuables the refugees could muster and the mercy of the boatmen. Some were stranded at Na Khaung To for weeks.

The beach was teeming with sick, hungry and exhausted people, recalled Nurjan, whose son Nur Mohammed was one of the 10 men killed at Inn Din. “Everyone was desperate,” Nurjan said. “All you could see was heads in every direction. It was like the Day of Judgment.”

CROSSING THE NAF

Bangladesh was perhaps a two-hour ride across calm estuarine waters. But the boatmen wanted to avoid any Bangladesh navy or border guard vessels that might be patrolling the river. So they set off at night, taking a more circuitous route through open ocean. Most boats were overloaded. Some sank in the choppy water, drowning dozens of people.

The boatmen charged about 8,000 taka (about $100) per person. Some women paid with their earrings and nose-rings. Others, like Abdu Shakur, promised to reimburse the boatman upon reaching Bangladesh with money borrowed from relatives there.

He and his wife, Subiya Hatu, who had argued over leaving their oldest son behind at Inn Din, set sail for Bangladesh. Another boat of refugees sailed along nearby. Both vessels were heaving with passengers, many of them children.

In deeper water, Abdu Shakur watched with horror as the other boat began to capsize, spilling its passengers into the waves. “We could hear people crying for help,” he said. “It was impossible to rescue them. Our boat would have sunk, too.”

Abdu Shakur and his family made it safely to Bangladesh. So did the other families bereaved by the Inn Din massacre. During the crossing, some realized they would never see their men again, or Myanmar.

Shuna Khatu wept on the boat. She felt she already knew what the military had done to her husband, Habizu. She was pregnant with their third child. “They killed my husband. They burned my house. They destroyed our village,” she said. “I knew I’d never go back.”

THE ONLY PHOTO

Two months later, in a city-sized refugee camp in Bangladesh, Shuna Khatu gave birth to a boy. She called him Mohammed Sadek.

Rahama Khatun, who fled Myanmar on the shoulders of her older children while seven months pregnant, also had a son. His name is Sadikur Rahman.

The two women were close neighbors in Inn Din. They now live about a mile apart in Kutupalong-Balukhali, a so-called “mega-camp” of about 600,000 souls. Both survive on twice-a-month rations of rice, lentils and cooking oil. They live in flimsy, mud-floored shacks of bamboo and plastic that the coming monsoon could blow or wash away.

It was here, as the families struggled to rebuild their lives, that they learned their men were dead. Some heard the news from Reuters reporters who had tracked them down. Others saw the Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre or the photos that accompanied it.

Two of those photos showed the men kneeling with their hands behind their backs or necks. A third showed the men’s bodies in a mass grave. The photos were obtained by Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested in December while investigating the Inn Din massacre. The two face charges, and potentially 14-year jail sentences, under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

Rahama Khatun cropped her husband’s image from one of the photos and laminated it. This image of him kneeling before his captors is the only one she has. Every other family photo was burned along with their home at Inn Din.

For the Rohingya crisis in graphics, click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/MYANMAR-ROHINGYA/010051VC46K/index.html

(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall. Edited by Peter Hirschberg.)

Judge denies motion to drop case against widow of Orlando gunman

FILE PHOTO: Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. on June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – A judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against the widow of the gunman in the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, saying that the gunman’s father’s work an FBI informant was not relevant to the case.

Over the weekend, prosecutors disclosed that Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique, had worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before his son carried out the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016.

In opening their case, lawyers for Mateen’s widow, Noor Salman, argued that the judge should dismiss the charges against her or declare a mistrial because prosecutors had failed to reveal the FBI’s relationship to Mateen’s father and other evidence related to him beforehand.

Salman, 31, is accused of helping her husband carry out surveillance of possible attack sites and doing nothing to stop him. Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent who claimed allegiance to a member of the Islamic State militant group, was killed by police after more than three hours in the Pulse nightclub.

An FBI agent on Monday testified that years before Mateen carried out the attack, the agency considered using him as an informant, like his father.

Those discussions took place while the FBI was investigating comments made by the younger Mateen about overseas links to militants, Special Agent Juvenal Martin said in federal court in Orlando. That investigation closed without charges, he said.

Martin did not say why the FBI decided against enlisting Omar Mateen as an informant.

Salman’s attorneys say that the disclosure by prosecutors that Seddique Mateen had been an informant from January 2005 to June 2016 violated a Supreme Court ruling barring prosecutors from withholding evidence.

After resting their case, prosecutors said agents probing the nightclub rampage found receipts of money transfers made from the United States to Turkey and Afghanistan made by the elder Mateen. An active investigation was under way, they said.

If the defense had known about the transfers, it would have investigated whether Seddique Mateen was involved in the attack or had prior knowledge of it, Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Salman, said in the motion to dismiss.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Byron said, “It is not clear whether the purpose of the transfers was illegal.”

He said the omission of any evidence related to Seddique Mateen had no bearing on the culpability of Salman.

Salman faces possible life in prison if convicted on charges of aiding her husband in the attack and obstructing an investigation.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Additional reporting and writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)

Norway’s Christian Democrats meet to decide government’s fate

Norway's Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug and her political adviser Espen Teigen are seen in the Norwegian parlament after several parties supported a motion of no-confidence against her in Oslo, Norway March 15, 2018. NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad via REUTERS

By Joachim Dagenborg and Terje Solsvik

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power in parliament, were meeting on Monday to decide whether to back a no-confidence motion against the justice minister, a step that could bring down the government.

Sylvi Listhaug has rocked Norway’s traditionally consensual politics by accusing the opposition Labour Party – in 2011 the target of the country’s worst peacetime massacre – of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.

Five opposition parties last week said they would vote on Tuesday to oust the minister, leaving her fate in the hands of the small Christian Democratic Party.

“The polarizing rhetoric and behavior must end,” party leader Knut Arild Hareide told delegates in an opening address on Monday, before talks began in earnest behind closed doors.

He said he was seeking their advice on how to proceed. “The conclusion has not been drawn,” he added.

On Sunday, daily Verdens Gang and broadcasters NRK and TV2 quoted sources close to Prime Minister Erna Solberg as saying her cabinet would stand by Listhaug and resign if the no-confidence vote succeeded.

Snap elections are not allowed, and Norway’s next general election is not due until 2021. Solberg might be able to form a new government, but if the Christian Democrats switched sides the task could fall to Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere.

Political scientist Johannes Bergh said they were unlikely to do so.

“They do not want a new a government,” said Bergh, a researcher at the Institute of Social Research in Oslo. “They do not want to contribute to a Labour-led government coming to power.”

ISLAND MASSACRE

On July 22, 2011, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in downtown Oslo with a car bomb and then shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers, at a Labour party camp on Utoeya Island.

On March 9, Listhaug posted on Facebook a photograph of masked people clad in military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition with the text: “Labour thinks terrorists’ rights are more important than the nation’s security. Like and Share”.

The comments unleashed a political storm, and Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, apologized in parliament on March 13. Most opposition parties said her gesture was not sincere enough.

Many attempts have been made in parliament to oust governments via no-confidence motions, but the last to succeed in bringing down a cabinet was in 1963.

Daily Aftenposten on Monday said Solberg and Christian Democrat leader Hareide had discussed the possibility of defusing the situation by having Listhaug apologize again.

The dispute erupted after Labour and the Christian Democrats helped defeat a bill allowing the state the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they were suspected of terrorism or joining foreign militant groups.

Hareide’s party has backed Conservative leader Solberg for prime minister since 2013, but has declined invitations to join the cabinet, primarily due to its opposition to the Progress Party.

(Additional reporting by Camilla Knudsen and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Roche)

School safety bill passes House, no action on gun control

Students from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC, hold up signs with the names of those killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting during a protest for stricter gun control during a walkout by students at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lisa Lambert and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives approved spending more money on metal detectors, locks and other school security measures on Wednesday, but took no steps to tighten gun control laws a month after a Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people.

While students marched nationwide for change on one of America’s most vexing social issues, lawmakers voted 407-10 for legislation to spend $50 million to $75 million per year from 2019 through 2028 on school security and safety training.

 

People supporting gun control attend a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

People supporting gun control attend a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

No parallel measure was pending in the Senate, where a somewhat more ambitious bill was being debated, but prospects for meaningful gun control reforms in Congress remained remote in the face of stiff resistance from gun industry lobbyists.

“This bill, on its own, is not the kind of meaningful congressional action needed to address this crisis of gun violence,” Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said in a statement.

“This must be a first step and it must be followed by a serious effort to pass legislation that expands background checks and bans military-style assault weapons,” he said.

It was not yet clear when the Senate would take up the House bill, which would not become law without Senate approval.

President Donald Trump applauded the House bill, the White House said, though it falls far short of broader gun control legislation he talked about shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The measure would not allow any of the funding to be used for arming teachers or other school personnel. The White House said the bill would be improved by lifting that restriction.

Since the Parkland massacre, student protesters have successfully lobbied for tighter gun controls in Florida. Hundreds of them gathered outside the Capitol to urge Congress to take action on placing new limits on firearms and gun sales.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) listens to testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) listens to testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

In the Senate is a bill to strengthen existing background checks of gun purchasers. It enjoys broad bipartisan support but has not been scheduled for debate.

Congressional aides said discussions were underway about folding the school safety and background check bills into a government funding bill that lawmakers want to pass by March 23.

Eleven organizations, including some gun control and law enforcement groups, wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urging passage this month of the background checks bill.

Since the Florida shooting, the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration have considered measures to curb gun violence while trying to avoid crossing the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group, or threatening the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Neither the House nor Senate bills address many of the gun control initiatives backed by students, teachers and families of shooting victims at the Florida school.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Katherine Posada, a teacher at the school, recounted the horror she experienced the day of the shooting and urged Congress to ban assault-style weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged in the murders.

“Some of the victims were shot through doors, or even through walls – a knife can’t do that,” Posada said. “How many innocent lives could have been saved if these weapons of war weren’t so readily available?”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Alexander and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)

U.N. accuses Mexico of torture, cover-up in case of 43 missing students

FILE PHOTO: Relatives pose with images of some of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa College Raul Isidro Burgos students in front of a monument of the number 43, during a march to mark the 41st month since their disappearance in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico City, Mexico February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights office said on Thursday that Mexican authorities had tortured dozens of people in connection with an investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students, and it called for a full inquiry.

Mexico said on Monday it had arrested a suspected drug gang member regarded as a key figure in the kidnapping and massacre of the 43 student teachers. Activists say the case is emblematic of widespread gang violence in the country.

The atrocity plunged President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government into one of its worst crises as doubts swirled around the conduct of the investigation into the case.

“The findings of the report point to a pattern of committing, tolerating and covering up torture in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a report.

Mexico’s mission in Geneva said the ambassador was not immediately available to comment on the report, entitled “Double injustice – human rights violations in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case”.

An initial investigation found that the students, who were on five buses, were abducted by corrupt police who handed them over to members of a drug cartel, who killed them, incinerated their bodies at a trash dump and threw the ashes into a river.

However, the official account has been widely questioned by local and international human rights experts. Only a bone fragment from one student has been found near a river.

Zeid’s office, which examined information related to 63 out of 129 people detained in connected with the case, said it had documented arbitrary detention and torture based on interviews, judicial files and medical records.

It had information on the possible torture of 51 people and “solid grounds to conclude that at least 34 of these individuals were tortured”, including one woman. But it stopped short of attributing blame for the murders.

“Ayotzinapa is a test case of the Mexican authorities’ willingness and ability to tackle serious human rights violations,” Zeid said. “I urge the Mexican authorities to ensure that the search for truth and justice regarding Ayotzinapa continues, and also that those responsible for torture and other human rights violations committed during the investigation are held accountable.”

The U.N. report calls for any evidence in the Ayotzinapa case for which there are credible indications that it was obtained under torture to be excluded or invalidated.

A team of international experts said in September 2015 that Mexico’s official account of the Ayotzinapa case did not add up, citing deep flaws in the inquiry and dismissing its claims that the victims were incinerated in a garbage dump.

In their report, the experts suggested the missing bus may have been carrying a shipment of cash or drugs.

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday that crimes against humanity had been committed in Mexico “in the name of security”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Empty shoes, empty schools: U.S. gun law activists plan two days of theater

FILE PHOTO: Students from South Plantation High School carrying placards and shouting slogans walk on the street during a protest in support of the gun control, following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Plantation, Florida, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A makeshift memorial made up of 7,000 pairs of shoes took shape on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, as gun control activists dramatized the number of children killed in the United States by gunfire since the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre.

The shoe demonstration comes a day before a massive nationwide walkout by students to demand tougher laws on gun ownership, part of a campaign that emerged after the killing of 17 students and staff at a Florida high school a month ago.

“This is really about putting the human cost of refusing to pass gun control at the doorstep of lawmakers,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, deputy director of Avaaz, a U.S.-based civic organization that planned the shoe memorial. The Capitol is the home of the U.S. Congress.

Activists and volunteers gathered at dawn, placing 7,000 colorful pairs of donated children’s footwear side by side in a trapezoid shape to commemorate those who have died since the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Dozens of people were seen standing in front of the shoes, holding large, black signs with the words “#NOTONEMORE” and “7000 KIDS KILLED” written on them.

Donors to the shoe monument include actresses Susan Sarandon and Bette Midler, and talk show host Chelsea Handler.

Wednesday’s #ENOUGH National School Walkout, organized by the activists who helped plan the Women’s March in Washington for the past two years, will begin at 10 a.m. local time (1400 GMT).

Students across the country will walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 victims who lost their lives in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The massacre was the deadliest school shooting since 20 children and six adults were shot dead at Sandy Hook more than five years ago.

About 1,300 people below the age of 18 are killed by gunfire in the United States every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The walkout has won the support of many school districts and civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union. More than 2,500 walkouts are scheduled across the country, according to the organizer’s website.

Some schools will allow students to participate and have encouraged them to exercise their free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A few have threatened to suspend students if they disrupt class by leaving.

“When students protest at schools, our school staff will respond appropriately and allow our students to be heard,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent for public schools for Broward County, Florida, where Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman is located.

Dozens of colleges and universities across the country, including at least three Ivy League schools, have said their application processes will not consider disciplinary action taken against high school students who engage in protests.

Tuesday’s shoe memorial is reminiscent of a monument on the Danube River near the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest commemorating thousands of people, including Jews, killed by fascists in the 1940s.

Many Canadian cities have marked the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6 with similar “shoe memorials.”

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Bernadette Baum)

Walmart joins Dick’s Sporting Goods in raising age to buy guns

A general view of Dick's Sporting Goods store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Susan Heavey and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Walmart Inc, the largest U.S. retailer, joined Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc in raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21 after the massacre at a Florida high school that has reopened a fierce debate over gun control in America.

Walmart said that “in light of recent events” it was raising the age for purchasers of firearms and ammunition to 21 from 18. The retailer is also was removing items from its website that resemble assault rifles, including non-lethal airsoft guns and toys. Walmart stopped selling assault firearms and accessories in 2015 and only sells handguns in Alaska.

Dick’s, a U.S. retailer of camping supplies, sporting goods and guns, will stop selling assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. It will not sell any guns to people under age 21, Dick’s chief executive, Ed Stack, said in an open letter on the company’s website.

The announcements came the same day that classes resumed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people, mostly students, were killed two weeks ago in one of the deadliest U.S. mass shootings.

The accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, legally purchased a weapon at Dick’s in November, although not the type used in the shooting, Stack said. Cruz, a former student at Stoneman Douglas, is accused of using an AR-15 assault-style weapon to carry out the killing.

The massacre spurred a youth-led wave of protests, and state and national officials are considering whether to pass stricter gun control measures. The powerful National Rifle Association traditionally opposes such curbs, citing the right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Dick’s removed assault-style weapons from its Dick’s-branded stores after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 first graders and six adults, but continued selling them through another retail brand. Wednesday’s move takes them out of its 35 Field & Stream outlets as well, Stack said, adding the measure would be permanent.

Some analysts said the 2012 decision did not hurt the retailer’s sales, likely giving company executives confidence to make Wednesday’s move.

Guns for sale are seen inside of Dick's Sporting Goods store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Guns for sale are seen inside of Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Stack said he knew the company’s decision would upset some customers, but he cited the passionate response by the students and families in Parkland.

“We have heard you,” he said.

Stack said in his letter that Dick’s respects the Second Amendment and law-abiding gun owners but was obliged to address a national gun epidemic that is killing too many children.

After the Parkland shooting, it was clear there were not enough systemic protections to prevent gun sales to people who are potential threats, Stack said, adding that Congress should tighten background checks to include relevant mental health information.

Dick’s, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, operates about 715 Dick’s-branded stores across the United States. It was the latest company to take action after the Florida shooting. Other businesses have cut ties with the NRA and gun manufacturers.

Amazon.com Inc, the world’s largest online retailer, has long prohibited the sale of firearms and explosives on its websites, as well as ammunition and gun accessories in most cases. It declined comment on the issue on Wednesday.

EBay said its policy prohibits the sale of firearms and high-capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds.

Since the Florida shooting, gun-control supporters have called on Amazon as well as Roku, Apple Inc and others to drop the National Rifle Association’s programming from their streaming services.

Outdoor goods retailer Bass Pro Shops, which acquired Cabelas Inc last year and sells guns under both retail brands, did not respond to requests for comment.

Package delivery company FedEx Corp declined to comment on whether it would change its firearms shipping policy after the Florida shooting, while rival United Parcel Service Inc said it was not changing its policies.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Nandita Bose in New York and Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Eric Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Ben Klayman, Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)