Two more teenagers killed at weekend as knife murders in Britain soar

FILE PHOTO: People visit a site near to where 17-year-old Jodie Chesney was killed, at the Saint Neots Play Park in Harold Hill, east London, Britain March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Andrew MacAskill and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Two teenagers were killed in knife attacks in Britain over the weekend, bringing the total number of people killed in stabbings this year to at least 24 and pushing the bloodshed to the forefront of national concern.

British Interior Minister Sajid Javid said he would be meeting police chiefs this week to find ways to tackle the problem as he called for an end to the “senseless violence”.

“Young people are being murdered across the county, it can’t go on,” Javid said.

Police say the surge in knife crime in a country where guns are hard to obtain has been driven by several factors, including rivalries between drug gangs, cuts to youth services, and provocations on social media. Many have occurred in poor areas of the capital, London.

The issue has shot to the top of the political agenda after figures show the number of deaths from stabbings reached a record last year. The number of children in England aged 16 and under being stabbed rose by 93 percent between 2016 and 2018.

At the same time, police have suffered big cuts in staffing and funding under austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, particularly during her tenure as interior minister in the years before she took the top job.

In the latest deaths, 17-year-old schoolboy Yousef Ghaleb Makki, was stabbed in a village near Manchester while he was visiting a friend. Two boys, also aged 17, have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Jodie Chesney, a 17-year-old Girl Scout, was killed in a knife attack in a park in east London. Her family have called her murder a “totally random and unprovoked attack”.

“A Knife to the Heart of Britain”, the Dail Mail splashed across its front page on Monday along with a photograph of Chesney.

British media also made much of the fact that Makki lived in an affluent area and went to a private school. Most attacks take place in more deprived areas with higher general crime rates.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY

Two weeks ago, three teenagers were stabbed in Birmingham, central England, prompting a senior regional police official to say Britain was facing a national emergency.

A total of 285 knife and sharp instrument homicides recorded in the year ending March 2018, the highest number since Home Office records began in 1946. The previous high was in the year ending March 2008, with 268 homicides by stabbing.

Nineteen murders have taken place in London this year, according to London Metropolitan Police.

The force had arranged more officers to be on duty in response to the violent crime wave, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said.

Prime Minister May rejected claims that falling police numbers following funding cuts was fuelling the rise in knife crime.

“If you look at the figures what you see is there is no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers,” she said.

The government said it had set out a range of actions to tackle violent crime, including a 200 million pound ($265 million) youth fund and an independent review of drug misuse.

It has also proposed an extra 970 million pounds in police funding for 2019-20.

“We’re taking action on many fronts & I’ll be meeting police chiefs this week to hear what more can be done. Vital we unite to stop this senseless violence,” Javid said.

(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Russian lawmakers back law jailing anyone urging teenagers to protest

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shout slogans during a rally for a boycott of a March 18 presidential election in Moscow, Russia January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers approved draft legislation that would make it a jailable offense to call on teenagers to attend unauthorized street protests, a move Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday was designed to frustrate his own activity.

Navalny, a 42-year-old lawyer who says he wants to succeed Vladimir Putin as president, has tried to win the support of a young demographic, including teenagers, some of whom have attended his nationwide anti-Kremlin protests.

Police have sometimes dispersed his rallies using force and jailed hundreds of attendees, including teenagers, whose presence has drawn sharp criticism from the Kremlin which has accused Navalny of manipulating minors for political gain.

The new legislation proposes introducing fines of up to 50,000 rubles ($750) or a jail sentence of up to 15 days for anyone calling on people aged under 18 to attend unauthorized protests. Companies or organizations that encourage minors to attend could be fined up to 500,000 rubles under the new law.

Opposition activists who want to protest already face an array of restrictions, including a requirement to seek the authorities’ advance approval for the time and place of any rally. Authorities often flatly decline such requests for technical reasons or propose alternative venues in remote locations far from the public eye.

Navalny wrote on Twitter that the draft bill showed how the authorities were moving to give themselves a new lever to hamstring his opposition activity.

“They passed the law especially for me, but it’s them that should be jailed for it,” he wrote.

The bill was approved in its third and final reading on Tuesday. It must be approved by the upper house of parliament before it is signed into law by President Putin, something that is normally a formality.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Greece must urgently move vulnerable migrants from island camp

FILE PHOTO: Refugees and migrants from the camp of Moria shout slogans in front of riot police during a protest over the camp's conditions, near the city of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Elias Marcou/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece should urgently move children and other vulnerable migrants and refugees from its most overcrowded island camp to the mainland or to other EU countries for the sake of their mental and physical health, the MSF aid agency said on Monday.

The appeal from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came days after the governor of the region where the Moria camp is based said it should be closed next month unless authorities clean up “uncontrollable amounts of waste”.

MSF said it had witnessed an unprecedented health crisis in the camp, Greece’s biggest and home to some 9,000 migrants, a third of whom are children. It said many teenagers had attempted to commit suicide or were harming themselves on a weekly basis.

Other children suffer from elective mutism, panic attacks and anxiety, it said in a statement.

“This is the third year that MSF has been calling on the Greek authorities and the EU to take responsibility for their collective failures,” the agency said.

“It is time to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation in other European countries.”

The migrants in the camp, which is on the island of Lesbos, are housed in shipping containers and flimsy tents in conditions widely criticized as falling short of basic standards.

Greece is a gateway into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of refugees who have arrived since 2015 from Syria and other war-ravaged countries in the Middle East and from Africa.

Athens, which exited the biggest bailout in economic history in August, is struggling to handle the thousands of refugees who are stranded on its islands.

It has criticized Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis and some EU member states for being reluctant to share their burden.

Last week, 19 non-governmental organizations urged Greece to take action to alleviate the plight of refugees in all its island camps, not just Moria, to render them more fit for human habitation. The total number of migrants and refugees holed up in the island camps exceeds 17,000.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Relatives of Thai soccer team trapped in cave turn to spirits for help

Fruits, desserts and drinks are placed as offerings to the spirits near the Tham Luang caves, where 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Chayut Setboonsarng

By Chayut Setboonsarng

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Distraught relatives of the teenaged members of a soccer team trapped in a flooded cave complex in Thailand turned to prayers on Tuesday as caving enthusiasts helped military rescue teams on the third day of the search.

The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, were trapped on Saturday after heavy rain flooded the cave complex in a forest park in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

Relatives placed fruits, desserts, sugary drinks and sweets on mats near the cave as an offering to the spirits which some people believe protect the cave and the forest.

“Come home,” cried one distraught mother. “Mummy is here to pick you up.”

The cave network stretches 10 km (6 mile) into the mountain and rescue workers believe the boys are stuck in a chamber of the network but efforts to find them have been hampered by rising waters.

Pumps have been brought in to try to drain some of the water from the cave but rain has been falling intermittently over the area.

“We must find the children today. We have hope that they are alive somewhere in there,” provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told Reuters.

Rescue teams are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Rescue teams are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Major General Nathawut Junhanandana, an army commander on the rescue team, said about 90 soldiers were searching the forested slopes of the mountain, looking for shafts or any other hidden ways into the caves.

“Our team is looking around the mountain for potential entrances,” Nathawut told Reuters.

“This will uncover more ways, possibly, for a rescue.”

Media reported that British caver Vern Unsworth, who has been inside the cave many times, had joined the search, while up to six Thai civilians who have explored the cave extensively were also helping, police at the scene told Reuters.

Thailand’s Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning described Tham Luang cave as “awaiting exploration from tourists because most have had to retreat when faced with many obstacles and difficulties in the cave”.

The cave is usually closed during the rainy season which runs from May to October, it said.

A sign posted near the entrance to the cave warns visitors that it is prone to flooding between July and November.

Among those waiting at the mouth of the cave for news were three team mates who skipped Saturday’s expedition to the cave after soccer practice, because their parents told them to come home, media said.

“I can’t concentrate at school knowing they are in there, so I came here,” said Sonpong Kantawong, 14, who missed the trip because his mother drove to pick him up after soccer practice, media said.

The boys’ bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the caves after they went missing. A 17-member navy unit including divers and underwater drones has joined the search.

Rescuers have covered about 6 km (4 miles) of the cave network, said Damrong Hanpakdeeniyom, the head of the park, adding that visitors are usually only allowed to venture in about 700 meters (2,300 ft).

 

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Robert Birsel)

Seminary head arrested after Israeli teenage deaths in flood: police

Israeli rescue services personnel operate near the site where a group of Israeli youths was swept away by a flash flood, near the Zafit river bed, south to the Dead Sea, Israel, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The head of a seminary who organized a desert trek in which 10 Israeli teenagers were killed in a flash flood has been arrested on suspicion of causing death through negligence, police said.

Nine girls and a boy were killed when a sudden, powerful torrent gushed through a usually arid Zafit river bed in southern Israel near the Dead Sea on Thursday. Seven of the 10 were buried on Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the head of the seminary and a teacher were remanded in custody until Tuesday on suspicion of causing death through negligence.

It was the deadliest incident of several caused by unusually heavy rains over two days, which caused many normally dry river beds to swell into potentially deadly torrents.

The floods also claimed the lives of two children from Israel’s Bedouin community who were washed away in separate torrents on Wednesday.

A Palestinian teenage girl drowned in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, medics said. A truck driver is still missing after he was apparently swept away in another torrent in Israel, south of the Dead Sea, police said.

Flash floods are a common phenomenon in Israel and the West Bank after heavy rains, as surges of water run through narrow channels into the Dead Sea and the rift valley region that runs along the Negev Desert.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “All of Israel laments in the terrible tragedy that cut short the lives of ten young, wonderful people who had such promising futures.”

A text message conversation published by Israeli media quoted one of the trek’s participants, who was unnamed, saying: “I can’t believe that I am actually going out in this weather, it’s not logical that we should go to such a place where there will be floods, it’s tempting fate, we will die, I am serious.”

Another conversation participant thought her friend’s comments were exaggerated; she presumed the organizers “have some sense and will take you to other places.”

A small section of Israel’s concrete separation wall in East Jerusalem that was built to seal off Palestinian areas collapsed due to the heavy rainfall but construction teams were on site to seal the breach, police said.

Fearing more heavy thunder storms on Friday, police closed some main roads in the Dead Sea region and warned torrent hunters seeking views of spectacular waterfalls and gushing streams to stay away.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by Stephen Farrell and William Maclean)

French police clash with youths at protest rally, arrest eight

Clouds of tear gas surround youths as they face off with French police during a demonstration against police brutality after a young black man, 22-year-old youth worker named Theo, was severely injured during his arrest earlier this month, in Paris, France, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) – Hundreds of French high-school students staged an unauthorized anti-police rally on Thursday, blocking the entrances to a dozen schools in Paris in the latest in a series of protests over the alleged rape of a young black man with a police baton.

Police reported eight arrests after isolated skirmishes with youths who hurled objects and damaged property on the fringes of what otherwise appeared to have been a relatively peaceful demonstration.

The protest comes two months before a presidential election where far-right leader Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party, is tipped to win the first round but lose the runoff vote that takes place on May 7.

The Paris school authority said more than 10 schools had been targeted by youths who piled up rubbish bins and other objects at the entrance gates. In one case, a deputy school director was injured when protesters hurled a fire extinguisher.

The protesters are angry over the alleged rape of the 22-year-old man during a Feb. 2 arrest in an area north of Paris where large numbers of immigrants live. The man, identified only as Theo, remains in hospital with injuries to his anus and head.

He has called for public calm and his family has said they have faith in the French justice system.

One of the banners carried at Thursday’s rally read “Revenge for Theo!”

Social media networks showed signs of skirmishes on the fringes of the rally in the Place de la Nation square in the east of Paris, where riot police in protective gear advanced on groups of mostly-hooded youths in sidestreet confrontations.

A helicopter flew overhead and tear gas clouds rose into the air above that square toward the end of the rally.

The Paris police department had warned people to stay away from the protest, saying it was not authorized and that there was a risk of violent groups causing trouble, as happened over the last three weeks.

Four police officers have been suspended pending an inquiry into the Feb. 2 incident. One has been placed under formal investigation for suspected rape and three others for unnecessary use of force.

So far the protests have not snowballed to the extent of the unrest that 12 years ago drew global attention to the stark contrast between wealthy Paris and the suburbs that surround it.

(Writing by Brian Love; additional reporting by Gerard Bon and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. Muslim school curriculum: English, math and political activism

muslim school teaching kids political activism

By Scott Malone

MANSFIELD, Mass. (Reuters) – The students at Al-Noor Academy, a Muslim school outside Boston, bombarded their government class speaker with questions: How do you start a political discussion? How do you use social media in politics? And how do you influence elected leaders?

The group of mostly 16-year-olds was too young to vote but seemed eager to find ways to counter the rhetoric of President Donald Trump who last week issued travel restrictions to the United States by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Before this election happened, I really didn’t know much about politics at all,” said Sarah Sendian, a sophomore student at the school in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “With the new president and all of the things that are happening, it sparked a lot of interest in a lot of young people.”

The class is one of the first actions of newly formed Muslim political organization Jetpac – standing for Justice, Education, Technology, Policy Advocacy Center – to encourage political activism among the 3.3 million Muslims who make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population.

“This is the time when Muslims should step forward,” said Nadeem Mazen, the group’s founder and a city councilor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “What’s going on at the national level only emphasizes what we’ve known prior to Trump being elected, and it’s that we need really good leaders.”

Thursday’s lesson at the 116-student junior and senior high school was heavy on how to build networks of like-minded people and turn them out at public meetings, rallies and elections to amplify the voices of U.S. Muslims.

About 824,000 of them were registered to vote as of 2016, a figure that had risen by about 60 percent over the past four years, according to national Muslim advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

‘KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING’

The class’s teacher, Joe Florencio, reminded his students that generations of immigrant populations have gone through the same process of becoming politically active.

“To be effective politically, you have to know what you’re doing,” said Florencio, the sole non-Muslim faculty member in a building that once housed the Roman Catholic church where his parents were married.

Students at the school, founded in 2000, study both standard U.S. academic subjects including science and math as well as Arabic and the Koran, a model similar to the many parochial schools in the northeastern United States.

Jetpac, which hopes to eventually offer versions of the class to private and public schools across the United States, faces an uphill climb. The number of anti-Muslim attacks reported to the FBI last year spiked to their highest level since 2001, the year that al Qaeda-backed hijackers destroyed New York’s World Trade Center.

While the group acknowledged that it will take time for political newcomers to win elections, even the act of campaigning could help Muslims, simply by making people more familiar with politics, said Faiza Patel, of the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“It allows them to meet lots of people, people that they might not otherwise meet and that has the effect of reducing prejudice,” said Patel, who studies interactions between Muslims and the U.S. justice system. “You start to see people as human beings.”

Almost half of respondents to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll said they believed that at least some U.S. Muslims harbored anti-American views, but respondents who knew a Muslim personally were less likely to believe that than ones who did not.

Yousef Abouallaban, a member of the Al-Noor school committee whose two eldest sons have attended the school, said he hoped the class would help the children of Muslim immigrants overcome a bias held by some of their parents against getting involved with politics.

“We were raised in a different culture where our belief is that people who get involved in government are corrupt people. At all levels. So if you are a decent person, you should never get involved in politics,” said Abouallaban, who immigrated from Syria in 1989. “That’s not the case in the United States and this mentality has to be changed.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Rigby)

Parents fighting teens addiction to cell phones

File photo of contestants competing in the the LG Mobile Worldcup Texting Championship in New York

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Half of teenagers in the United States feel addicted to their mobile phones, with most checking the devices at least every hour and feeling pressured to respond immediately to messages, a survey released on Tuesday found.

The majority of parents concurred, with 59 percent of those with children between ages 12 and 18 saying their kids cannot give up their phones, according to a poll of 1,240 parents and children by Common Sense Media.

The findings from the nonprofit group, which focuses on the effects of media and technology on children, highlighted the tension such close ties to devices can cause, with it disrupting driving, homework and other time together.

About a third of those polled said they argue every day about screen use, the San Francisco-based group said.

“It is causing daily conflict in homes,” Common Sense Media’s founder and CEO James Steyer said in a statement.

Its survey is the latest indication of American families struggling to balance mobile devices in an age of ever-evolving technology. It also underscores the ongoing debate over Internet addiction and its consequences.

A separate review of available data on Internet and technology use cited concerns for problematic media. Multi-tasking can hinder the ability to form memories and the lack of human interaction can also make it harder to develop empathy, Common Sense Media found.

U.S. children between ages 8 and 12 report spending nearly six hours a day using media, while those ages 13 to 18 spend almost nine hours per day using media, according to the group.

“The seemingly constant use of tech, evidenced by teens immediately responding to texts, social-networking posts, and other notifications, is actually a reflection of teens’ need to connect with others,” it said in its review.

Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development and an adviser for the review, said it is still unclear what the ultimate impact of such media use is on children’s behavior.

“We need to devote more time and research to understanding the impact of media use on our kids and then adjust our behavior accordingly,” she said in a statement.

Still, teenagers were not the only cause for concern, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. Parents also took big risks.

Fifty-six percent of adults surveyed said they check their mobile phones while driving — and more than half of teens said they had seen their parents do so.

“What we’ve discovered is that kids and parents feel addicted to their mobile devices,” Steyer said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Hay)