31 Jul

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


As campus carry becomes Texas law, memories of UT Tower massacre linger

Monday marks 50 years since the first US mass shooting of the modern era. It also brings a controversial gun law to campuses across the Lone Star State

by in Austin, Texas

It was 1 August 1966, and Gary Lavergne was a 10-year-old boy in Church Point, Louisiana. His family did not have much, but they had a television. When his father, the local chief of police, came home after work they watched the evening news on CBS.

The anchor, Walter Cronkite, related the big story of the day: a man had climbed the famous tower at the core of the University of Texas campus in Austin and shot passersby with a rifle. The act felt shocking in its scale and its originality.

“That nut is showing everybody what’s possible and we’re going to see a lot more of this,” Lavergne recalled his father saying.

“I’ll never forget the way he said that,” he added. “And I’ll be danged if he wasn’t right.”

Charles Whitman killed 17 people, including an unborn child, and injured more than 30. The UT Tower massacre was the first mass shooting on a US college campus.

At a time when television news was expanding in reach and cultural influence and melding important moments into shared national experiences, it was arguably mainstream America’s introduction to a now familiar type of crime: an armed individual inflicting tremendous and unexpected violence at a location whose name would come to be used as shorthand for tragedy.

Lavergne wrote a thorough account of Whitman’s murders, A Sniper in the Tower, in 1997. Today he works in the university’s admissions research department and his office is on the ground floor of the tower.

“It was kind of an introduction to the concept that a person will do this and he doesn’t give a damn about whether he’ll live or die,” he said. “We weren’t used to that. People who committed crimes, you assume they wanted to get away. Well, not this guy. He went up there and he knew he wasn’t coming down alive………..

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One woman pronounced dead at the scene and four people taken to hospital after separate shootings in Texan city

Gunfire is heard in amateur footage uploaded on social media causing people to flee a shooting in downtown Austin on Sunday. People are shocked as they stand near the scene while emergency services drive down the street in the Texan capital. Officials say at least one woman has died

A woman has been killed and four other people shot in an incident in Texas that was initially feared to be the work of a gunman attacking in various locations.

Austin police were called to two incidents in the city’s historic Sixth Street entertainment district within minutes of each other in the early hours of Sunday, prompting fears that a person was firing randomly.

The police put out a warning of an “active shooter incident downtown”, telling people to stay away from the area. At a press conference later, however, the Austin police chief, Brian Manley, said that had been “based on the information we had at that time”.

At 2.17am, police received a call saying a woman had been shot in Sixth Street and seven minutes later a call saying an individual had been assaulted with shots fired in Trinity Street, a few blocks away.

At the press conference, Manley said: “At this time we do not believe nor are we classifying this as an active shooter. What we had was two separate incidents that occurred in very close proximity to each other both in location and time that made us initially believe it was an active shooter.”

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Doctors’ fears of low funding and the first mosquito-borne infections in Florida prompt senators’ demand that Republican peers return for emergency funds

Senate minority leader Harry Reid, one of the senators who has demanded Republicans reconvene Congress for Zika funding.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid, one of the senators who has demanded Republicans reconvene Congress for Zika funding. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Senate Democrats have called for Congress to end its recess and immediately approve emergency funds for combating the Zika virus in America, after Florida reported its first cases of mosquito-borne infections on the mainland, and funding for mosquito nets for pregnant women started running low.

Near downtown Miami, teams of doctors were going door to door on Saturday to alert an estimated 30,000 residents, particularly pregnant women, of the risks of being bitten by local mosquitoes believed to be carrying the virus.

On Friday, Florida governor Rick Scott and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that four new cases of the disease in the Miami area were almost certainly contracted through local insect bites. CDC director Tom Frieden warned: “Zika is here now.”

Testing of mosquitoes in the area has not produced a positive result for Zika so far, Scott said, but the authorities believe that is the most likely explanation for how the latest infections had occurred.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Senate minority leader Harry Reid then demanded that Congress reconvene and release emergency funding, which lawmakers had failed to approve amid bitter infighting. They then left the matter unresolved for a seven-week recess that began in June, coinciding with the start of the peak months for North American mosquitos.

“If there was ever a time for Congress to act it is now,” Nelson wrote in a letter to the majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, on Friday, calling on him to reconvene the Senate.

Reid called on both houses of Congress to reconvene. Then he added on Twitter that: “Americans can’t afford to wait until Congress’ vacation is over.”

The vast majority of the more than 1,600 cases of Zika previously reported by the CDC within the US were contracted while patients were traveling abroad or, in a small number of cases, through sexual transmission after entering the US. In the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, there are thousands of mosquito-borne infections, in what Frieden called a “silent epidemic” that could threaten the mainland…………..

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‘How can you trust a government that says you can come out safely but is bombing children and hospitals every day?’

A Twitter post shows the plight of the Hamami family in besieged Aleppo.

A Twitter post shows the plight of the Hamami family in besieged Aleppo. Photograph: Courtsey of Zaher Sahloul

Hundreds of thousands of residents in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo are shunning so-called “humanitarian corridors” set up by Russian and Syrian forces, choosing to risk starvation and an escalating campaign of airstrikes rather than leave their homes and trust their lives to the attacking armies.

Just 169 civilians have left the city through the corridors since Friday, Russian military forces said in a statement quoted by AP, and 69 fighters have laid down their arms. There are estimated to be more than 300,000 people still in the city, according to councils and aid groups working there.

Few people in Aleppo believe guarantees of safe passage from a government that has for years bombed civilian targets including hospitals, markets and schools, says American-Syrian doctor Zaher Sahloul, who left the city days before it was totally cut off.

“How can you trust a government that is bombing you every day? I am not talking about bombing fighters, I am talking about bombing children and hospitals,” said Sahloul, who has visited Aleppo several times as a volunteer medic over the past four years. “But they are the same people who are saying ‘you can come out safely’.”

The plan has already had a frosty reception from western powers, with US secretary of state John Kerry sharing concerns that the offer could be a “ruse”. The UN envoy for Syria has snubbed Russia by describing the creation of humanitarian corridors as “our job”. “How do you expect people to walk through a corridor, thousands of them, while there is shelling, bombing, fighting?” Staffan de Mistura said…………….

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  • Poland’s PM defends government’s refusal to accept migrants
  • Up to 1.8 million believers are set to attend closing mass on Sunday
Pope Francis prays during a prayer vigil in Brzegi, near Krakow, Poland, on Saturday.

Pope Francis prays during a prayer vigil in Brzegi, near Krakow, Poland, on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters

As many as 1.6 million people gathered for a vigil with Pope Francis near Kraków on Saturday evening amid tensions between the pontiff and the Polish government over the issue of refugees.

The Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo was forced to defend her government’s refusal to accept refugees from the Middle East. “Those who criticise Poland for not bringing in immigrants will probably say: Pope Francis came and lectured Poland,” she conceded.

The country had admitted large numbers of Ukrainian migrants and also sent humanitarian aid to the Middle East, Szydlo told Radio Krakow.

“We also need to keep in mind the security of our citizens. My duty is to make sure that Poles are safe in this world increasingly often ruled by terrorism and take utmost care to prevent events here in Poland that could pose a threat to Polish citizens,” Szydlo added.

In a pointed reinforcement of Pope Francis’s repeated calls for compassion and generosity to refugees, the vigil heard testimony from Rand Mittri, 26, from Aleppo in Syria.

“It may be difficult for many of you to understand the full breadth of what is happening in my beloved country, Syria,” Mitti told the gathering…………….

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Exiled writer Mahir Zeynalov brings news of president Erdo?an’s crackdown on the media after coup attempt to the world

Arrested Turkish journalists Busra Erdal, Bulent Mumay and Ali Akkus.

Arrested Turkish journalists Bür?ra Erdal, Bülent Mumay and Ali Akku?. Composite: Mahir Zeynalov/Twitter

Turkish media are in a state of shock this weekend after the government arrested 17 journalists in recent days on terror charges and issued arrest warrants for dozens more, in what a press freedom group has warned is a “sweeping purge” of the sector.

Turkey had already ordered the closure of more than 100 papers, broadcasters and publishing houses as part of a crackdown after the failed 15 July coup attempt, before sending police to round up reporters, columnists, a novelist and social commentators.

The impact of those arrests was documented by US-based journalist and government critic Mahir Zeynalov, who was expelled from Turkey for his work two years ago and who took to Twitter to commemorate the work and reputations of the journalists arrested.

“Everybody was highlighting numbers and statistics, but nobody really explained who these people are,” he told the Observer. Some are personal friends, others celebrated within the profession and several are nationally famous.

So he posted photos of each journalist, many at the moment of their arrest, each with a brief but powerful biography. The pen sketches are affectionate, sometimes teasing, but most end with a one-word reminder of the price they have paid for their work. “Arrested.”……….

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Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas also see voter ID and registration measures ruled discriminatory, decisions which could affect November’s elections

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, last year after the beginning of a federal voting rights trial challenging the 2013 state law.

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, last year after the beginning of a federal voting rights trial challenging the 2013 state law. Photograph: Chuck Burton/AP

Shortly after Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, the former chair of the North Carolina Republican party wrote an anxious postmortem saying something had to be done about the students and black voters whose unprecedented turnout had turned the state blue for the first time in 32 years.

The alternative, former state chair Jack Hawke wrote, was that the country would “continue to slide toward socialism”.

That “something” turned out to be a notorious omnibus law – better known to its detractors as the “monster law” – passed by a Republican-majority state legislature in 2013. The legislation gutted many of the progressive voting rules that had contributed to Obama’s razor-thin margin in the state: same-day registration, a lengthy early voting period and out-of-precinct voting by provisional ballot – all favored disproportionately by African American voters and students. The law also introduced a strict voter ID requirement, with the anticipated effect of suppressing Democratic votes even further.

Had the law stood, it could have been the biggest setback for voting rights in North Carolina since the Jim Crow era, a brazen attempt by conservatives to upend the rules of democratic engagement and block access to groups most likely to oppose them. The Republicans have sought to couch their maneuvering in more benign terms, as a form of justifiable partisan warfare. Hawke noted in his postmortem that the Democrats had been motivated, united and well-financed in 2008, and said it was up to the Republicans to respond in kind………….

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