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US diplomatic boycott violates Olympic spirit: China

China accused the United States of violating the Olympic spirit on Tuesday after the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games over human rights concerns.

Rights groups have pushed for a full-blown boycott of the Games, accusing China of rights abuses against ethnic minorities. The US decision falls short of those calls but comes at an exceptionally turbulent time for relations between the powerhouse nations and was met with a barrage of criticism from China.

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The US is attempting to interfere with the Beijing Games “out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumors,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.

The boycott “seriously violates the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto ‘more united,’” Zhao said.

As he did the previous day, Zhao vowed that China would respond with “resolute countermeasures” but offered no details.

“The US will pay a price for its practices. You may stay tuned for follow-ups,” Zhao said.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration will fully support US athletes competing at the Games but won’t dispatch diplomats or officials to attend.

Psaki said the US has a “fundamental commitment to promoting human rights” and that it “will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

The diplomatic boycott comes as the US attempts to thread the needle between stabilizing difficult relations with Beijing and maintaining a tough stance on trade and political conflicts. The US has accused China of human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs in northwest Xinjiang province, suppressing democratic movements in Hong Kong, committing military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more.

Beijing has denounced US criticisms and punitive sanctions as interference in its internal affairs and slapped visa bans on American politicians it regards as anti-China.

Zhao warned the US to “stop politicizing sports” and cease what he said were actions undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, “otherwise it will undermine the dialogue and cooperation between the two countries in a series of important areas and international issues.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington dismissed the move as posturing in a tweet.

“In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the #Beijing2022 to be successfully held,” the embassy said.

China’s mission to the United Nations called the boycott a “self-directed political farce.”

Even the ruling Communist Party’s notoriously opaque Central Commission for Discipline Inspection issued a response in the form of a lengthy screed on its website entitled “The Spirit of the Olympic Charter Cannot be Tarnished.”
“Some Western anti-China politicians” have shown a “defensive Cold War mentality aimed at politicizing sport,” the article said, calling that a “clear violation of the Olympic spirit and a challenge to all people who love the Olympic movement.”

People on the streets of Beijing were overall dismissive of the US move.

“I don’t think it matters at all if they would come or not. The Olympic Games are not about one country or a couple of countries,” said coffee shop employee Deng Tao.

“Such remarks from someone we never invited are simply a farce. And I don’t think it will have much impact on the holding of the Winter Olympics,” Lu Xiaolei, who works in trade.

It wasn’t clear which officials the US might have sent to Beijing for the Games and Zhao said on Monday that no invitation had been extended by China.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, whose relations with China have nosedived in recent years, said Wednesday his government would join the US in the diplomatic boycott.

New Zealand said on Tuesday it won’t be attending the games at a diplomatic level, but that it made the decision earlier due mostly to pandemic travel restrictions.

The country told China in October about its plans not to send government ministers, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said.

“But we’ve made clear to China on numerous occasions our concerns about human rights issues,” Robertson said.

The attitudes of other US allies were less clear.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that the country would make its own decision “from the perspective of national interests, taking into consideration the significance of the Olympic Games and the significance of Japan’s diplomacy.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said a decision on officials attending would be made “at an appropriate time.”

“In any case, Japan hopes that the Beijing Winter Games will be held as a celebration of peace in line with the principles of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Matsuno said.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam declined to comment on the US decision and said the ministry had not received any request from its ally not to send officials.

South Korea hopes the Beijing Olympics will “contribute to peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world and help improve relations between South and North Korea,” Choi said.

The dispatching of high-level delegations to each Olympics has long been a tradition among the US and other leading nations. Then-President George W. Bush attended the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games. First lady Jill Biden led the American contingent to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year and second gentleman Doug Emhoff led a delegation to the Paralympic Games.

Read more: China threatens to retaliate if US boycotts Beijing Winter Olympics

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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

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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