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US imposes sweeping human rights sanctions on China, Myanmar, and N. Korea

The United States on Friday imposed extensive human rights-related sanctions on dozens of people and entities tied to China, Myanmar, North Korea and Bangladesh, and added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime Group to an investment blacklist.
Canada and the United Kingdom joined the United States in imposing sanctions related to human rights abuses in Myanmar, while Washington also imposed the first new sanctions on North Korea under President Joe Biden’s administration and targeted Myanmar military entities, among others, in action marking Human Rights Day.

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“Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
China’s embassy in Washington denounced the US move as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs” and a “severe violation of basic norms governing international relations.”
Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said it would do “grave harm to China-US relations” and urged Washington to rescind the decision.
The North Korean mission at the United Nations and the Washington embassies of Myanmar and Bangladesh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The measures are the latest in a raft of sanctions timed to coincide with Biden’s two-day virtual Summit for Democracy, where he announced initiatives to bolster democracy around the world and support for pro-democracy legislation in the United States.
Biden said on Friday that commitments made by some of the more than 100 world leaders at the summit would push back against rising autocracy around the world, fight corruption and promote human rights.
“This is going to help seed fertile ground for democracy to bloom around the world,” he said in a speech closing the summit.
The Treasury on Friday added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime to a list of “Chinese military-industrial complex companies,” accusing it of having developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs.
As a result, the company will fall under an investment ban for US investors. SenseTime is close to selling 1.5 billion shares in an initial public offering (IPO). After news of the Treasury restrictions earlier this week, the company began discussing the fate of the planned $767 million offering with Hong Kong’s stock exchange, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
SenseTime said in a statement on Saturday that it “strongly opposed the designation and accusations that have been made in connection with it,” calling the accusations “unfounded.”
“We have complied with the applicable laws and regulations in relation to our business in all material respects in the jurisdictions where we conduct business,” the company said.
UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China’s far-west region of Xinjiang.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang, but the US government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

Myanmar, North Korea

The Treasury said it was imposing sanctions on two Myanmar military entities and an organization that provides reserves for the military. The Directorate of Defense Industries, one of the entities targeted, makes weapons for the military and police that have been used in a brutal crackdown on opponents of the military’s Feb. 1 coup.
The Treasury also targeted four regional chief ministers, including Myo Swe Win, who heads the junta’s administration in the Bago region where the Treasury said at least 82 people were killed in a single day in April.
Canada imposed sanctions against four entities affiliated with the Myanmar military government, while the United Kingdom imposed fresh sanctions against the military.
Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military overthrew leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government on Feb. 1, triggering daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority insurgents.
Junta forces seeking to crush opposition have killed more than 1,300 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.
Campaign group Global Witness said the measures fell short of targeting Myanmar’s natural gas industry, a key source of foreign currency for the junta, and were “unlikely to materially impact the military junta’s bottom line.”
The Treasury also blacklisted North Korea’s Central Public Prosecutors Office, along with the former minister of social security and recently assigned Minister of People’s Armed Forces Ri Yong Gil. It also targeted a Russian university for facilitating the export of workers from North Korea.
North Korea has long sought a lifting of punishing US and international sanctions imposed over its weapons programs and has denounced US criticism of its human rights record as evidence of a hostile policy against it.
The Biden administration has repeatedly called on North Korea to engage in dialogue over its nuclear and missile programs, without success.
The US State Department on Friday also barred 12 people from traveling to the United States, including officials in China, Belarus, and Sri Lanka.

Read more: Biden virtual ‘Summit for Democracy’ to rally nations against rising authoritarianism

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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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