Texas Muslims Mourn Pakistani Exchange Student Slain in School Shooting

Houston’s Muslim community gathered to offer prayers Sunday at the funeral service for a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student killed in a mass shooting at her southeast Texas high school.

About 1,000 people, many with Pakistani roots and wearing traditional Muslim dress, converged on an Islamic center in Stafford to honor Sabika Sheikh, whose body was brought by hearse to the somber service from Santa Fe, the nearby small rural town where a student killed 10 people including eight students.

Among the mourners was the late teen’s first cousin who lives in the United States. She said Sheikh’s relatives are completely devastated.

“The family back home, we are in touch with them. They’re crying every moment. Her mother is in denial right now,” Shaheera al-Basid, a graduate student in the U.S. capital Washington, told AFP at the funeral service.

“It’s a shock we need our entire life to recover from,” the 26-year-old added.

Men lined up in rows offered traditional mourning prayers as Sheikh’s coffin, draped in the green and white flag of Pakistan, was brought into a small, cramped sanctuary.

Sheikh had been due to return home in mere weeks, in time for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

‘Shock’

“It’s a shock, it’s so sad,” said realtor Ike Samad, 67, who was born in Pakistan but has lived here most of his adult life and raised his children as Americans.

“I came here just like her, as a student,” he recalled. “God forbid that could have happened to me when I was here. As a parent, it is just devastating.”

Samad also addressed the painful irony that a young woman from a country that many Americans associated with the war on terror in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington was killed in a country that millions around the world see as a bastion of freedom.

The attacks were a “tragedy, and tragedy sometimes teaches you life,” he said. “But it also revisits, and in this case very close to here.”

Several Pakistani-American youths also attended the funeral service, including Danyal Zakaria of nearby Sugar Land, Texas.

The 17-year-old said it was “truly mind-blowing” that an exchange student his age could be cut down in cold blood at a US school.

“This nation is known to be safe,” he said. “If America is not safe, then where is?”

 

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US Aid Chief to Myanmar: Take ‘Concrete Steps’ on Rohingya Rights

The U.S. government’s aid chief urged Myanmar on Sunday to take concrete steps” to guarantee the rights of Rohingya Muslims and to show sincerity in that endeavor in order to encourage hundreds of thousands who have fled the country to return.

Mark Green, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), ended his three-day visit to Myanmar touring Rohingya and Rakhine communities in western Rakhine State, including a camp for displaced Rohingya people.

Green said the refugees, whom he met during the previous leg of the trip in camps in Bangladesh, are fearful and while they want to return, they are asking for their rights and security to be guaranteed before making the decision to come back.

“That reinforces the importance here of clear signs of sincerity of the government’s stated position of welcoming back

Rohingya in a safe, secure and dignified manner,” Green told reporters.

“We would strongly encourage the government to take those concrete steps which are a demonstration of the ability for Rohingya to return under those conditions,” Green said.

He said the government could show the refugees in Bangladesh it is sincere by taking “clear actions” with the tens of thousands of Rohingya displaced in previous bouts of violence now stuck in crowded camps in squalid conditions in Rakhine.

Green said he was “struck by the sense of hopelessness that so many Muslims nearby feel – the lack of access to health care, education, ability to move, access to livelihoods … that kind of hopelessness is obviously disturbing — it’s also something that has to be addressed.”

Green has said the United States would provide $44 million in additional aid for the Rohingya and vulnerable populations in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar to escape an army crackdown since August, launched in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks. Refugees have reported murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops.

Washington has called the army response ethnic cleansing — a charge Myanmar denies, saying its security forces have been

waging a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against “Bengali terrorists.”

After meeting Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyitaw and civil society leaders in the main city Yangon on Friday and Saturday, Green met local government officials in Rakhine and toured villages and camps over the weekend.

On Sunday, he went to Muslim and Buddhist villages in the Rathedaung township in the north of the violence-torn state. He then met camp leaders in Thet Kae Pyin camp for nearly 6,000 Rohingya, a short drive from state capital Sittwe.

“We don’t have the luxury of time. We really do need all of us to see positive steps forward and we stand ready to help,” Green said.

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Washington Digests US-China Trade Announcement

Washington is digesting China’s stated intention to purchase more American goods and reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, last week’s talks between U.S. and Chinese negotiators did not yield specific commitments from Beijing in dollar figures, sparking criticism from some lawmakers in Washington.

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Special Career Law Enforcement Day for NYC Muslim Youth

During a unique career fair in Brooklyn, state and federal law enforcement agencies, from the New York Police Department to the FBI, connected with the city’s Muslim youth to tell them about career opportunities. The event was organized by a New York-based nonprofit. VOA reporter Aunshuman Apte spoke with the agency representatives, organizers and attendees about the event’s importance and impact.

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For GOP, Immigration a Fraught Issue as Midterms Approach

The chaos among House Republicans this past week on immigration shows how problematic and risky the issue can be for a party that needs unity heading into the elections in November that will decide control of Congress.

GOP leaders thought they had found a way by Friday morning to make the party’s warring conservative and moderate wings happy on an issue that has bedeviled them for years.

Conservatives would get a vote by late June on an immigration bill that parrots many of President Donald Trump’s hard-right immigration views, including reductions in legal immigration and opening the door to his proposed wall with Mexico. Centrists would have a chance to craft a more moderate alternative with the White House and Democrats and get a vote on that, too.

​Farm bill hostage

But it all blew up as conservatives decided they didn’t like that offer and rebelled. By lunchtime Friday, many were among the 30 Republicans who joined Democrats and scuttled a sweeping farm and food bill, a humiliating setback for the House’s GOP leaders, particularly for lame-duck Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The conservatives essentially took the agriculture bill hostage.

They said they were unwilling to let the farm measure pass unless they first got assurances that when the House addresses immigration in coming weeks, leaders would not help an overly permissive version pass.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a leader of the moderates, said his group would try to write a bill that would let young “Dreamer” immigrants in the U.S. illegally stay permanently — a position anathema to conservatives — and toughen border security.

A moderate immigration package “disavows what the last election was about and what the majority of the American people want, and the people in this body know it,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. He’s a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members opposed the farm bill.

“It’s all about timing unfortunately and leverage, and the farm bill was just a casualty, unfortunately,” Perry said.

Denham and his allies were also unwilling to back down. He told reporters that the conservatives “broke that agreement,” and his group would pursue bipartisan legislation.

“I’m disappointed in some colleagues who asked for a concession, got the concession and then took down a bill anyway,” Denham said in a slap at the Freedom Caucus. Denham said the concession was a promised vote on the conservative immigration bill by June, though conservatives said they never agreed to that.

Such internal bickering is the opposite of what the GOP needs as the party struggles to fend off Democratic efforts to capture House control in November. Democrats need to gain 23 seats to win a majority, and a spate of Democratic special election victories and polling data suggests they have a solid chance of achieving that.

Republican leaders and strategists think their winning formula is to focus on an economy that has been gaining strength and tax cuts the GOP says is putting more money in people’s wallets.

Immigration is a distraction from that message — and worse.

On one side are conservatives from Republican strongholds, where many voters consider helping immigrants stay in the U.S. to be amnesty. On the other are GOP moderates, often representing districts with many constituents who are Hispanic, moderate suburbanites or are tied to the agriculture industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers.

20 Republicans

A look at the 20 Republicans who have signed a petition by GOP moderates aimed at forcing House votes on four immigration bills is instructive.

Of the 20, nine are from districts whose Hispanic populations exceed 18 percent, the proportion of the entire U.S. that is Hispanic. Denham’s Central California district is 40 percent Hispanic, while five others’ constituencies are at least two-thirds Hispanic.

In addition, 11 of the 20 represent districts that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried over Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

The petition drive, led by Denham and GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose South Florida district is 70 percent Hispanic, is opposed by party leaders because the winning bill probably would be a compromise backed by all Democrats and a few dozen Republicans. That would enrage conservatives, perhaps prompting a rebellion that could cost House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his goal of succeeding Ryan as speaker.

Long odds to become law

All that trouble would be for legislation that still faces long odds of becoming law.

Even if a formula is discovered that could pass the House, it could run aground in the Senate, where four immigration bills died in February and Democrats can use the filibuster to scuttle any bill they dislike. Those defeats led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to say he wouldn’t revisit immigration unless a bill arose that could actually pass this chamber.

Trump’s willingness to sign immigration legislation also remains in question after a year that has seen his stance on the issue veer unpredictably.

Audience members hold signs reading “DISAGREE” as U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaks during a town hall meeting, March 18, 2017, in Red Lion, Pa. Perry’s event turned contentious in his conservative south-central Pennsylvania district over questions about his support for President Donald Trump’s budget proposal and immigration plans and for undoing former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

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Fast-Moving Lava Cuts off Homes, Forces Air Rescue

Fast-moving lava crossed a road and isolated about 40 homes Friday in a rural subdivision below Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, forcing at least four people to be evacuated by county and National Guard helicopters.

Hawaii County Civil Defense said police, firefighters and National Guard troops were securing the area of the Big Island and stopping people from entering.

The homes were isolated in the area east of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, two neighborhoods where lava has destroyed 40 structures, including 26 homes, over the past two weeks.

Officials were assessing how many people were still in the newly threatened area. They were advising people to shelter in place and await further instructions.

County officials have been encouraging residents in the district to prepare for potential evacuations.

​Lucky to get out

Edwin Montoya, who lives with his daughter on her farm near the site where lava crossed the road and cut off access, said he was at the property earlier in the day to get valuables.

“I think I’m lucky because we went there this morning and we got all the batteries out, and all the solar panels out, about $4,000 worth of equipment,” he said. “They have to evacuate the people that are trapped up there right now in the same place that we were taking pictures this morning.”

He said no one was on his property, but his neighbor had someone on his land.

“I know that the farm right next to my farm, he’s got somebody there taking care of the premises, I know he’s trapped,” Montoya said.

Montoya said the fissure that poured lava across the road opened and grew quickly.

“It was just a little crack in the ground, with a little lava coming out,” he said. “Now it’s a big crater that opened up where the small little crack in the ground was.”

​Experts uncertain

Experts are uncertain about when the volcano will calm down.

The Big Island volcano had an explosive eruption at its summit Thursday, sending ash and rocks thousands of feet into the sky. No one was injured and there were no reports of damaged property.

Scientists said the eruption was the most powerful in recent days, though it probably lasted only a few minutes.

It came two weeks after the volcano began sending lava flows into neighborhoods 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the east of the summit.

A new lava vent, the 22nd such fissure, was reported Friday by county civil defense officials.

Several open fissure vents are producing lava splatter and flow in evacuated areas. Gas is also pouring from the vents, cloaking homes and trees in smoke.

​Faster, hotter lava flows

The fresher, hotter magma will allow faster lava flows that can potentially cover more area, said Janet Babb, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Much of the lava that has emerged so far may have been underground for decades, perhaps since a 1955 eruption.

Meanwhile, more explosive eruptions from the summit are possible.

“We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption,” said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. “We’re kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty.”

It’s nearly impossible to determine when a volcano will stop erupting, “because the processes driving that fall below the surface and we can’t see them.” said volcanologist Janine Krippner of Concord University in West Virginia.

U.S. government scientists, however, are trying to pin down those signals “so we have a little better warning,” said Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the observatory.

Thus far, Krippner noted, authorities have been able to forecast volcanic activity early enough to usher people to safety.

The greatest ongoing hazard stems from the lava flows and the hot, toxic gases spewing from open fissure vents close to homes and critical infrastructure, said Charles Mandeville of the U.S. Geological Survey’s volcano hazards program.

Authorities have been measuring gases, including sulfur dioxide, rising in little puffs from open vents.

The area affected by lava and ash is small compared to the Big Island, which is about 4,000 square miles. Most of the Big Island and the rest of the state’s island chain is unaffected by the volcanic activity on Kilauea.

State and local officials have been reminding tourists that flights in and out of the Big Island and the rest of the state have not been impacted. Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are still available and businesses are open

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Progress in Struggle to Save Animals From Extinction

Conservationists around the world are making great strides in rescuing animal species from the brink of extinction. Despite the recent death of the last male white rhinoceros, there is hope that science can bring the species back. In Europe, scientists are raising bison almost a century after they vanished from the wild, and California’s population of sea otters has rebounded from only 50 specimens in the 1930s. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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First Somali-American Legislator Seeks Re-Election

It’s been an unlikely journey from a Somali refugee camp in Kenya to the Minnesota State House of Representatives, but 36-year-old Ilhan Omar’s historic rise as the first Somali American legislator in the United States is a beacon of hope for Muslims – particularly Muslim women – worldwide. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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India, EU Give WTO Lists of US Goods for Potential Tariff Retaliation

India and the European Union have given the World Trade Organization lists of the U.S. products that could incur high tariffs in retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trump’s global tariffs on steel and aluminum, WTO filings showed Friday.

The EU said Trump’s steel tariffs could cost $1.5 billion and aluminum tariffs a further $100 million, and listed rice, cranberries, bourbon, corn, peanut butter, and steel products among the U.S. goods that it might target for retaliation.

India said it was facing additional U.S. tariffs of $31 million on aluminum and $134 million on steel, and listed U.S. exports of soya oil, palmolein and cashew nuts among its potential targets for retaliatory tariffs.

One trade official described the lists of retaliatory tariffs as “loading a gun,” making it plain to U.S. exporters that pain might be on the way.

India said its tariffs would come into effect by June 21, unless and until the United States removed its tariffs.

The EU said some retaliation could be applied from June 20.

Trump’s tariffs, 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, came into force in March to strong opposition as many see the measures as unjustified and populist.

There were also objections that the tariffs would have little impact on China, widely seen to be the cause of oversupply in the market.

Trump justified the tariffs by claiming they were for U.S. national security, in a bid to protect them from any legal challenge at the WTO, causing further controversy.

Rather than challenging the U.S. tariffs directly, the EU and India, like China, South Korea and Russia, told the United States that they regarded Trump’s tariffs as “safeguards” under the WTO rules, which means U.S. trading partners are entitled to compensation for loss of trade.

The United States disagrees.

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