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BBC calls on Iran to end campaign of threats against its staff

The BBC on Friday urged Iran to end what it said was a mounting campaign of threats and intimidation against its journalists and their families at home and abroad.

The corporation said staff from its Persian-language service have endured a decade of harassment and attacks, including asset freezes and arbitrary arrest of relatives.

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“In the past year, threats against BBC News Persian staff and Persian-speaking journalists outside Iran have escalated,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

“Death threats and threats of extra-territorial harm have been made towards BBC News Persian staff in London, leading to police involvement and protection.”

The campaign has extended to journalists from other organizations perceived to be critical of the regime, forced returns from overseas and imprisonment, it added.

The UN has voiced concern about treatment of BBC Persian staff, saying the authorities in Tehran were prepared to go to illegal lengths to silence reporters.

The broadcaster’s World Service operation is part-funded by Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office but is editorially independent of government.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries are strained over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and its detention of dual nationals, said to be linked to a historic unpaid debt from a military deal before the shah was deposed in 1979.

BBC World Service’s lawyers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Jennifer Robinson said Persian service staff “receive threats of death and violence simply for doing their jobs.”

“We call on the international community to take immediate, robust action to ensure Iran is held accountable, and BBC News Persian journalists can report without fear,” they added.

The general secretary of Britain’s biggest journalists’ union the NUJ, Michelle Stanistreet, also backed the call, saying Iran’s actions were “despicable and must stop.”

“It is not only completely unacceptable for them to face such vicious personal intimidation, it is also a direct attack on press freedom,” she said.

“Journalism is not a crime, and journalists must be free to do their jobs.”

The appeal comes on International Human Rights Day, and after two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, received the Nobel Peace Prize.

BBC News Persian has a weekly global audience of nearly 22 million people, including some 13 million in Iran itself, the corporation said.

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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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