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AFP and Tribune Wires

Miami, United States — They survived the Parkland school massacre and now a group of Florida teens — driven, empowered and united — are spearheading a #NeverAgain activist movement that hopes to pressure US lawmakers into tightening gun laws.
After 17 people were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Wednesday, students from the community near Miami were quick to raise their voices to demand action to stop the scourge of mass shootings in American schools.
Having grown up in a world where children are drilled to prepare for the possibility a gunman could attack at any time, a group of eloquent teenagers have seized national attention with a call for a clampdown on the ready availability of powerful automatic firearms.
Their leaders include Cameron Kasky, creator of the #NeverAgain hashtag; Emma Gonzalez, who gave a fiery speech hitting out at politicians who receive money from the National Rifle Association; David Hogg, who filmed interviews with schoolmates during the shooting, and their classmate Chris Grady.
What sets these teens apart from the victims of previous shootings, said Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox University in Illinois, is that they “are young enough to be perceived as innocent victims but old enough to speak for themselves.”
They are “voicing shock, rage, sadness, and an entire range of innocent and raw emotions unsullied by political goals,” he told AFP.
All between the ages of 16 and 18, these youths come from affluent families, and experts say they will not be easily intimidated by adult politicians or the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby.
After taking their demands to state legislators in Florida, the so-called “Parkland kids” plan to march on Washington on March 24 — in a “March for Our Lives” that has received two million dollars in pledges of support from the likes of George and Amal Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.
Across the country sister movements are emerging to support the Parkland students, such as Student Walkout Against Gun Violence, which is organizing protests under the Twitter handle @studentswalkout.
“Everyone wants to take action and make change in this country,” said the account creator, a 19 year old California college student who asked to remain anonymous arguing that the story is not about her.
“If you don’t want to take action you haven’t watched the videos,” she said, referring to the images shared by the students while gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, was on the shooting rampage at Stoneman.
A new dawn?
Last year 58 people were shot dead at an open air concert in Las Vegas. In 2016, 49 people were slaughtered at a bar in Orlando, Florida. In 2012, 20 elementary school children and six adults were shot dead at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut. In 2007, 32 college students were killed at a Virginia university.
In all of those cases, urgent calls for tougher gun control proved fruitless, but experts believe the teens now have a chance at making a real political impact.
What makes Parkland different?
Dana Fisher, a University of Maryland expert on US social protests, notes that the student movement comes at a time of heightened political activism following Donald Trump’s election, which reignited a culture of political protest starting with the historic Women’s March the day after his inauguration.
“Everybody in this country is way more politically involved than they’ve ever been before,” she said. “As a result, people are paying attention to politics like they haven’t before, including children.”
A second key factor: the tech-savvy millennials from Stoneman, many of whom are preparing for college, are unlike the children from Sandy Hook, who were too young to speak for themselves. Nor are they unrelated victims like in the Orlando and Las Vegas shootings.
“They were all students at the same high school and so many of them know each other personally,” said McAndrew, an expert on mass shootings.
“We are hearing from the victims directly, and we are hearing from them with one unified voice rather than many scattered voices.”
Their familiarity “and the ease with which social media is integrated in their lives also gives them an edge when it comes to organizing and communicating with each other, as well as with the world at large,” he said.
Furthermore, the Parkland kids “are affluent and therefore empowerment is real,” said J. Reid Meloy at the University of California at San Diego.
“They are energized by their suffering and grief and channeling the emotion,” he said.
“They are not intimidated by the older white males in politics and the NRA. They are tired of the passivity of being a potential victim,” said Meloy, a former consultant to the FBI on mass shootings. 

Malaysia holds Filipinos seeking to set up extremist cell

Thursday, 22 February 2018 00:00 Published in Headlines

Ten suspected Islamic militants who were trying to establish a Malaysian cell of a Philippine kidnap-for-ransom group have been arrested in Borneo island, police said Wednesday.
The alleged extremists, mostly Filipinos, are also accused of trying to help fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) group travel to the Philippines to join up with militants there, they said.
The southern Philippines has long been a pocket of Islamic militancy in the largely Catholic country.
A long siege in Marawi, the country’s main Muslim center, sparked fears IS was seeking to establish a foothold in the region.
Malaysian police made the arrests in January and early February in Sabah state on the Malaysian part of Borneo, not far from the southern Philippines. Borneo is a vast island shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Seven of those detained were Filipinos, including several senior members of Philippine extremist group Abu Sayyaf which has been behind the kidnappings of numerous foreigners, Malaysian national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.

“Early information obtained from the 10 suspects caught in Sabah revealed an attempt by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group to set up a cell in Sabah,” he said.
One of those arrested was a 39-year-old believed to have received orders from a senior militant leader in the southern Philippines to bring IS members from the city of Sandakan in Sabah to join militant groups.
Another suspect was a 27-year-old identified as a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf leadership based in the Philippines.
The other three detained were Malaysians, police said. Officials did not disclose the suspects’ identities.
Malaysia has rounded up numerous suspected militants in recent times as fears grow that the influence of the IS group could encourage extremists to launch attacks in the Muslim-majority country.
Abu Sayyaf, originally a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, has splintered into factions, with some continuing to engage in banditry and kidnappings.
One faction pledged allegiance to IS and joined militants in the siege of Marawi, which claimed more than 1,100 lives.

Philippine officials to visit Kuwait amid worker row

Thursday, 22 February 2018 00:00 Published in Nation

Philippine officials are headed to Kuwait on Thursday to seek greater protection for migrant workers after a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the Gulf state.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told reporters Wednesday one of his deputies would lead the delegation, which is also due to stop in Saudia Arabia and Qatar to urge reforms.
Topping the list are demands that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their cellphones and passports, which can be confiscated by employers.
The trip comes after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week announced a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait.
He was responding to the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait this month.
Duterte’s ban sparked a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and the Gulf state as he alleged that Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours a day and fed them scraps.
Kuwait has invited Duterte for a visit but he has yet to respond.
Authorities say some 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy.
“We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection,” said Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, who will helm the delegation.
“We are afraid that because of the decision of the president to have a deployment ban, our overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait might be affected,” he added.
Lagunzad said Duterte had ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy.
Duterte also wanted Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said.
About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home.
Another team of labor officials said on Wednesday they would conduct negotiations with Kuwait next week on a deal to protect Filipino workers.
“Hopefully we can finalize the memorandum of agreement and by first or second week of March, we will have the signing by the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments,” said Claro Arellano, another labour undersecretary. 

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