A day without women: strikes in Mexico and Argentina follow huge rallies

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Millions of women in Mexico and Argentina will stay away from offices, school and government offices on Monday, stepping up historic protests against gender violence that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets over the weekend.

The one-day action dubbed “a day without us” is intended to show what life would be like if women vanished from society. In Mexico, the strike stems from a surge in disappearances of women and femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women.

FILE PHOTO: Women protest against gender violence and femicides at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City, Mexico, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Femicides in Mexico jumped 137% in the past five years, government statistics show, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes go unsolved.

On Sunday, women took to the streets in unprecedented numbers across Latin America as part of International Women’s Day, demanding abortion rights and action from leaders to stem the violence.

The mostly peaceful protests saw anger boiling over into some outbreaks of violence, such as Molotov cocktails thrown at Mexico’s national palace, after the killing of a 7-year-old and the murder and skinning of a young woman shocked the nation.

The impact of Monday’s strike, in contrast, will stem from the absence of women in businesses, universities and government ministries. Not all women, however, will take part.

“We are tired of being victims, of being abused and mistreated. Enough is enough,” said Alma Delia Díaz, 45, a beautician in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

Diaz said she supported women making their voice heard, but personally could not miss a day’s work.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said government employees are free to join the walkout. But he has also accused political opponents of seeking to exploit Mexico’s security problems to undermine his administration.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Having fled bombing, Syrian children learn to read in tent schools

By Khalil Ashawi

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Syrian teacher Ahmad al Hilal listens to his young pupils sitting on a mat reciting the Arabic alphabet in a makeshift school in a tent on the outskirts of a sprawling refugee camp city along the Turkish border.

Many ran for their lives with their mothers under heavy aerial bombing by Syrian and Russian jets that paralyzed day-to-day life and damaged dozens of schools and hospitals.

Now, already enduring the difficult winter conditions in the camp, where many tents get flooded, the children huddle on the floor, learning how to read with scraps of paper and pencils.

“These kids suffer from illiteracy. They don’t read or write. They have no one to help them,” said Hilal, who teaches over 140 young Syrians in three tents scattered across several large overcrowded camps on the outskirts of the border town of Azaz.

Women and children form a majority of more than 350,000 people who have fled the renewed assault since December that has pushed deeper into the Syria’s opposition-run bastion in the northwest, according to the United Nations.

“We came here as refugees, there are no more schools because of the air strikes, so we haven’t been going to school but we’re studying in the camp here,” said 14-year-old pupil Khaled, who did not give a family name.

Hilal was himself uprooted from his town of Abu Dahur in Idlib province after the army, backed by pro-Iranian militias seized it.

“We bought some books and parts of the Koran and now teach them inside the camp,” said Hilal, 48, who was a teacher before the conflict that began almost nine years ago.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the war will leave a generation who have never enrolled in school, having a devastating toll on education, with 7,000 schools destroyed and about 2 million children out of class.

At a nearby camp in al Bab, volunteers have converted a school bus into the Bus of Knowledge classroom.

Inside the decorated bus around 50 girls and boys as young as five take lessons in maths, life skills, Arabic and religion.

“Children are unable to go to the schools in the city. So we at the bus come to them with knowledge and provide them with the learning essentials such as reading and writing and basic mathematics,” said Mawiya Shular, 32, who fled a former rebel-held enclave in Homs three years ago.

“The feeling of being displaced gives me the motivation to work with these children. I want to get children out of their sense of alienation” said Shular, also a family counselor.

(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams)

Teen victim of Texas mass shooting straddled bi-national culture, other victims identified

Two Horizon High School students mourn at a vigil in honor of Javier Rodriguez, who was killed while shopping at Walmart, two days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

HORIZON, Texas (Reuters) – Several hundred students, teachers and relatives filled a high school athletic stadium in Texas on Monday to honor a teenager of U.S.-Mexican citizenship who was the youngest of 22 killed in a shooting rampage police suspect was driven by racism.

Javier Rodriguez, 15, was one week into his sophomore year at Horizon High School, where he played on the soccer team, when he was cut down by gunfire at a Walmart store on Saturday in the west Texas border city of El Paso.

“Javier was just a young man full of life, running in this same stadium we’re in now,” Juan Martinez, superintendent of the Clint Independent School District outside El Paso, told the crowd. “He didn’t deserve to die in a tragedy like this.”

The hour-long memorial service in the El Paso suburb of Horizon opened around twilight with the school principal welcoming Javier’s parents and sister onto a stage, where they released a white dove into the clear evening sky.

A group of teachers simultaneously released 21 more doves, one for each of the other victims, ranging in age from 23 to 90, most of them with Hispanic surnames.

A 21-year-old white man who police said drove more than 600 miles (956 km) from suburban Dallas to El Paso to carry out the shooting spree and surrendered to police at the scene has been charged with capital murder.

Authorities have said they are investigating the rampage as a hate crime, citing a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius.

In it, the author called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

Martinez said, “Apparently, Javier was a target because of the color of his skin. Javier did not choose the color of his skin, nor did I, nor did you.”

As the superintendent spoke, a member of the high school band, overcome by emotion, was escorted away sobbing.

Not only was Javier the youngest killed on Saturday, he perhaps as much as anyone represented the mixed heritage and culture of El Paso, which together with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande and the neighboring New Mexico city of Las Cruces, forms the largest bi-national, bilingual metropolitan area in North America.

Friends said Javier held dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship. Police identified seven others killed in the attack as Mexican nationals, and one as German. The rest were U.S. citizens, police said.

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, also spoke, mentioning that Javier’s uncle was among the wounded, describing the nephew’s life as “an expression of the hope we now have in one another.”

O’Rourke added, “Please understand that this violence, this hatred will not define this community, nor will it define the Rodriguez family.”

The 21 others killed on Saturday were identified by police as: Andre Pablo Anchondo, 23; Jordon Anchondo, 24; Arturo Benavidez, 60; Leonard Cipeda Campos, 41, Maria Flores, 77; Raul Flores, 77; Jorge Calvillo Garcia, 61; Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, 68; Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, 66; David Alvah Johnson, 63; Luis Alfonzo Juarez, 90; Maria Eugenia Legarrega Rothe, 58; Elsa Libera Marquez, 57; Marie Loyal, 56; Ivan Hilierto Manzano, 46; Gloria Irma Marquez, 61; Margie Reckard, 63; Sarah Esther Regaldo Moriel, 66; Teresa Sanchez, 82; Angelina Sliva-Elisbee, 86; and Juan Velazquez, 77.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Horizon; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

100 children, many others feared trapped in collapse of Nigeria building that housed school

Men carry a boy who was rescued at the site of a collapsed building containing a school in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

By Nneka Chile and Temilade Adelaja

LAGOS (Reuters) – As many as 100 children and many others were feared trapped on Wednesday after a building containing a primary school collapsed in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.

People gather as rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building containing a school in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

People gather as rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building containing a school in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

A Reuters reporter at the scene saw a boy of 10 being pulled from the rubble covered in dust but with no visible injuries. A crowd erupted into cheers as another child was pulled from the wreckage. The two were among eight children residents said had been rescued so far.

Workers on top of the rubble shoveled debris away as thousands of people swarmed around the rescue site — dozens watching from rooftops and hundreds more packed into the surrounding streets.

“It is believed that many people including children are currently trapped in the building,” said Ibrahmi Farinloye, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency’s southwest region, adding that casualty figures were not yet available.

Residents of the area said around 100 children attended the school, which was on the third floor of the building.

At the site, many people were shouting and screaming. A fight almost broke out as anger at the collapse boiled over.

In the crowd’s midst stood ambulances, fire trucks and a fork lift. Workers from the Red Cross and police were on hand.

The building was in the Ita-faji area of Lagos island, the original heart of the lagoon city before it expanded onto the mainland.

Nigeria is frequently hit by building collapses, with weak enforcement of regulations and poor construction materials often used. In 2016, more than 100 people were killed when a church came down in southeastern Nigeria.

In Lagos that same year, a five-story building still under construction collapsed, killing at least 30 people.

A floating school built to withstand storms and floods was also brought down in Lagos in 2016, though nobody was reported injured.

(Reporting by Nneka Chile, Temilade Adelaja and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Paul Carsten and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Ola Lanre in Maiduguri; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

Young survivors of Yemen school bus air strike return to class

Muhammad al-Shadheli, 9, who survived an August 2018 Saudi-led air strike on a school bus, sits on a wheelchair during the morning drill at his school in Saada province, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

SAADA, Yemen (Reuters) – In a small school in Yemen’s Saada province, the absence of dozens of their classmates killed in an air strike on a bus weighed heavily on the young survivors as they returned to classes.

Ahmad Ali Hanash, 14, struggled to hold back tears as he recalled the friends he lost in the attack by a Saudi-led military alliance on a market in Saada in northern Yemen in August.

“Their blood will not be in vain, we will avenge them by getting an education, we will avenge them by learning,” Hanash, who was on the bus, told Reuters. “I thank God for surviving the attack, the ugly crime.”

As the survivors resumed their lives, joining morning exercise drills in the sand yard of the two-storey Al Falah primary school, or attending classes in wheelchairs alongside peers seated at wooden desks, other students said they feared more attacks in the war-torn country.

“We are sad after we lost our dearest schoolmates, and we are worried that the enemy will strike the school,” said 15-year-old Sadiq Amin Jaafar. “But we will continue our education.”

Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of Arab states fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls north Yemen, said last month that the coalition accepted that the attack had killed dozens of people, including children on the bus, and that it was unjustified.

The kingdom and its ally the United Arab Emirates receive Western political support and buy billions of dollars a year in arms from the United States and European powers including Britain and France.

The alliance has launched thousands of air strikes in a campaign to restore the internationally recognized government, killing hundreds of civilians at hospitals, schools, markets and weddings.

International pressure has mounted on the kingdom to seek a political deal with the Houthi group in a 3-1/2 year war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the already impoverished country to the brink of famine.

The alliance says it does not intentionally target civilians. The Houthis have also been criticized by rights groups.

Students attend the morning drills at their school which lost pupils in an August 2018 Saudi-led air strike on a school bus in Saada province, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

Students attend the morning drills at their school which lost pupils in an August 2018 Saudi-led air strike on a school bus in Saada province, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

Nearly half a million children in Yemen have dropped out of school since 2015, bringing the total number of out-of-school children to 2 million, according to a UNICEF report in March.

But teacher Abdul Wahab Salah said that fear of coalition attacks on Saada, a Houthi stronghold, would not deter the school or students.

“It pains us that we lost so many of our students. They were exceptional and they were committed,” he said.

“We also are worried (about attacks), but we will continue to build future generations.”

(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Most U.S. teachers spend own money on school supplies: survey

FILE PHOTO: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ninety-four percent of U.S. public school teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies without reimbursement, according to a Department of Education survey on Tuesday that follows protests by educators who are asking for more pay and funding.

Teachers in the 2014-15 school year on average spent $479 out of their own pockets on such supplies as chalk, pencils and construction paper, while about 7 percent spent more than $1,000, the report by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics said.

Spending was more common in high-poverty schools than in wealthier ones, the survey showed. Just over half of U.S. public school students are eligible for the free lunch program, which is seen as a marker for poverty.

The study follows walkouts by teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma seeking better pay, benefits and funding. After the biggest teachers’ strike in U.S. history, Arizona’s governor last week signed a budget bill that will boost pay by 20 percent.

In North Carolina, thousands of teachers are expected to rally on Wednesday in Raleigh, the state capital, to seek more school funding from lawmakers.

A 2002 law allows teachers to deduct up to $250 from their U.S. taxes for unreimbursed spending on classroom materials. Legislation introduced by Representative Anthony Brown, a Maryland Democrat, and 35 co-sponsors would double the deduction and index it to inflation.

The average U.S. teacher earned $56,383 in the 2012-13 school year, marking a 1.3 percent drop from the turn of the millennium, Education Department statistics show.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said walkouts by teachers should not be necessary to address lack of spending on public education.

“There is no other job I know of where the workers subsidize what should be a cost borne by an employer as a necessary ingredient of the job,” she said in a statement.

The Education Department said the study was based on a nationally representative sample of public schools, teachers and principals in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Diane Craft)

Children of Iraq’s Kawliya return to school after 14-year break

Children of Iraqi Kawliya group (known as Iraqi gypsies) attend a class at a school in al-Zuhoor village near the southern city of Diwaniya, Iraq April 16, 2018. Picture taken April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

AL-ZUHOOR, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s Kawliya minority, also known as the country’s gypsies, have long been marginalized by society. But in al-Zuhoor, they finally have an elementary school again – nearly 14 years after the village’s only school was ransacked and destroyed at the hands of an Islamic militia.

Known locally as the Gypsies’ Village, Al-Zuhoor is near the city of Diwaniya, 150 km (95 miles) south of Baghdad. Roughly 420 people live in mud houses and reed huts lining unpaved streets.

With no basic services, the village’s primary school and clinic, built by the government of Saddam Hussein, were damaged by an Islamic militia in a mortar attack on the village in late 2003, months after a U.S.-led invasion toppled him from power.

The school was reopened with the help of U.N. children’s fund UNICEF after a campaign started by civilian activists on Facebook called I am a Human Being. It is made of a cluster of caravans provided by UNICEF on Al-Zuhoor’s outskirts.

The school has 27 children aged six to 10 and a teaching staff of a headmaster and two teachers.

Malak Wael, 10, said her family encouraged her to come to school and learn.

Headmaster Qassim Abbas Jassim said the school and the village suffer from a lack of electricity and safe drinking water.

Scorned by many Muslims and barely tolerated by the rest of society, Iraq’s Kawliya live a precarious existence. Lacking education or skills, they form one of the lower rungs of Iraq’s social system, and are not granted Iraqi citizenship.

Manar al-Zubaidi, representative of the I am a Human Being group who lobbied for a year for the construction of the school, urged the government to grant the Kawliya Iraqi nationality to help their children continue with their studies and get jobs.

Under Saddam, the Kawliya had some protection from persecution — partly in exchange for supplying dancers, alcohol and prostitutes, Iraqis say. The safety net disappeared with Saddam’s overthrow, leaving them open to the whims of religious militia groups contemptuous of their freewheeling ways.

The Kawliya speak Arabic and profess belief in Islam. Most originated in India, although a few came from other Middle Eastern countries.

(Writing by Huda Majeed, Editing by William Maclean)

Oklahoma Senate takes up tax hike to halt week-long teachers’ strike

FILE PHOTO - Teachers pack the state Capitol rotunda to capacity, on the second day of a teacher walkout, to demand higher pay and more funding for education, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – The Oklahoma Senate is set to debate a tax hike package on Friday to raise education funds in the hope of halting a week-long strike by its public school teachers, who are some of the lowest-paid educators in the country.

The strike that started on Monday has affected more than half a million students. It comes after a successful West Virginia strike last month ended with a pay raise and as teachers in other states angry over stagnating wages are considering walk-outs.

The Oklahoma package includes a $20 million internet sales approved by the House on Wednesday, a hotel tax hike expected to generate about another $50 million and a gambling measure that could bring in about another $22 million.

Tens of thousands of teachers have come to the state capitol this week seeking fresh spending for an education system that has seen inflation-adjusted general funding per student drop by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest reduction of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Last week, lawmakers approved the state’s first major tax increase in a quarter century, a $400 million revenue package that would have raised teacher pay by an average of about $6,000.

That was not enough for the teachers, seeking $10,000 over three years. Even with the pay raise already approved by lawmakers, they would still receive lower mean salaries than teachers in every neighboring state, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed.

Republican-dominated Oklahoma has the lowest median pay among states for both elementary and secondary school teachers, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The minimum salary for a first year teacher was $31,600, state data showed.

Oklahoma has some of the lowest U.S. oil and gas production taxes and a major cause for the budget strain comes from tax breaks the state has granted to its energy industry, which were worth $470 million in fiscal year 2015 alone.

When energy prices plunged a few years ago and tax revenue dropped, Oklahoma lawmakers made deeper cuts to education funding, which was already on the decline.

As a consequence of low pay at home and better opportunities across state lines, Oklahoma is grappling with a teacher shortage that has forced some school districts to cut curricula, and go to a four-day school week.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Oklahoma City and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Michael Perry)

S.C. church shooter’s sister charged for weapons at school

Morgan Roof, sister of avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof, is shown after being arrested for carrying weapons at a high school, in this police photo released in South Carolina, U.S., on March 15, 2018. Courtesy Richland County Government/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The teenage sister of avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to die for the 2015 massacre at a historic South Carolina black church, was arrested for carrying weapons and drugs at her high school, police said on Thursday.

Morgan Roof, 18, had a knife, pepper spray and marijuana when she was searched at A.C. Flora High School in Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday, said Richland County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Curtis Wilson.

Roof was charged with simple possession of marijuana and two counts of carrying weapons on school grounds.

Wilson said in a statement that school administrators had acted appropriately by calling the school resource officer to arrest Roof for violating school policy.

“No students were harmed as a result of this incident,” Wilson said.

The arrest came on the morning of a walkout by tens of thousands of students nationwide to demand stronger gun laws following last month’s Florida school shooting, in which 14 students and three faculty were killed.

Morgan Roof also made a racially charged Snapchat post about the walkout, according to the Post and Courier newspaper.

“I hope it’s a trap and y’all get shot we know it’s fixing to be nothing but black people walkin’ out anyway,” the post said, according to the newspaper.

Wilson said the post “caused alarm to the student body,” but he could not immediately confirm its contents.

After being made aware of the social media post, school administrators searched Roof and found the drugs and weapons, Wilson said.

Two other students, both 16, were arrested on Tuesday at A.C. Flora High School and charged with having weapons on school grounds after a handgun and loaded magazine were found, according to Wilson. A third student, also 16, was arrested on Thursday in connection with those discoveries, he said.

No students were in any danger, Wilson said in a statement.

Morgan Roof was released from jail on Thursday on an undisclosed bond, Richland County spokesman Andrew Haworth said.

In response to the arrests, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster called for more security at schools.

“For months, I have called on the General Assembly to join me in placing a trained, certified police officer in every school,” he said in a statement.

Dylann Roof sat for 40 minutes with parishioners at the landmark Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston for a Bible study meeting before opening fire on June 17, 2015. He killed nine African-Americans in a hate-fueled attack he had been planning for months.

He was sentenced to death after his conviction on 33 federal counts, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion. He was also sentenced under a separate state murder charge to nine consecutive life terms without parole and three consecutive 30-year prison terms for attempted murder.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

Strong quake hits Indonesia’s Java, kills three

Map of Indonesia

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A powerful magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck the island of Java in Indonesia just before midnight on Friday, with authorities reporting three deaths and damage to hundreds of buildings.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the quake was located at a depth of 92 km (57 miles), about 52 km southwest of Tasikmalaya.

Indonesia’s national disaster management agency said the quake activated early tsunami warning systems in the south of Java, prompting thousands to evacuate from some coastal areas, but no tsunami was detected.

Tremors were felt in central and west Java.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster agency, said in a press briefing on Saturday three people had been killed, seven injured and hundreds of buildings damaged, including schools, hospitals, and government buildings in West and Central Java.

Dozens of patients had to be helped to safety from a hospital in Banyumas and were given shelter in tents, he said.

He posted on his Twitter page photos of people scouring collapsed buildings.

The quake swayed buildings for several seconds in the capital Jakarta. Some residents of high rise apartment buildings in central Jakarta quickly escaped their apartments, local media reported.

Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency said a magnitude 5.7 quake early on Saturday also struck south of West Java. It said the quake did not have tsunami potential.

Java, Indonesia’s most densely populated island, is home to more than half of its 250 million people.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor, Agustinus Da Costa and Fransiska Nangoy; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Hugh Lawson & Shri Navaratnam)