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US Congress includes $300 mln for Ukraine, addresses China in massive defense bill

US lawmakers included a range of efforts to push back against Russia and China in a massive annual defense bill released on Tuesday, including $300 million for Ukraine’s military and a statement of support for the defense of Taiwan.

The text of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes $770 billion in military spending, including provisions such as a 2.7 percent pay increase for the troops, reforms of the military justice system to combat sexual assault and initiatives to address geopolitical threats.

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The NDAA normally passes with strong bipartisan support. It is closely watched by a broad swath of industry and other interests because it is one of the only major pieces of legislation that becomes law every year and because it addresses such a wide range of issues.

This year’s bill was released shortly after US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes.

The 2022 NDAA includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support to Ukraine’s armed forces, includes $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative and proposes $150 million for Baltic security cooperation.

It does not include a provision that would force Biden to impose sanctions over the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Germany. Republican lawmakers had wanted the measure included in the NDAA, arguing that the pipeline would be harmful to European allies.

Eyes on China

On China, the bill includes $7.1 billion for programs in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan, as well as a ban on the Department of Defense procuring products produced with forced labor from China’s Xinjiang region.

The United States has labeled China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang as genocide, and lawmakers have been pushing a ban on imports of products that may have been made with forced labor from Uyghurs. China denies abusing minorities and dismisses the genocide charge as part of slanderous assertions about conditions in Xinjiang.

The compromise text omits a proposal to subject women to the military draft that was included in earlier versions.

The proposal faced stiff opposition from socially conservative lawmakers that threatened to block the entire NDAA.

The compromise bill does include a significant overhaul of the military justice system to take decisions on whether to prosecute cases of rape, sexual assault and some other major crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

The change is the result of a years-long push, led by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, in response to the thousands of cases of sexual assault and related crimes among service members every year, many of which are never prosecuted.

The compromise NDAA was negotiated by leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees after weeks of delay while Democrats and Republicans argued over what should be included in the bill.

To become law for the 61st straight year, the NDAA must pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by Biden.

Read more: US announces diplomatic boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics in China

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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Three countries ban Russia’s Lavrov flight to Serbia, visit cancelled: Interfax

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