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Saudi Arabia set to announce budget for 2022, deficit likely to be narrowed down

Saudi Arabia is expected to announce its budget for 2022 and the actual budget figures for the current year 2021 on Sunday, with experts predicting the Kingdom’s budget deficit likely to be narrowed down to 52 billion riyals ($13.8 billion) in 2022 as compared to 85 billion riyals in 2021.

Positive expectations prevail regarding Saudi Arabia’s expected and actual budget figures given the improvement in oil prices and the expected tail end of roadblocks related to the outbreak of the coronavirus globally which has been positively reflected on the recent uptick in demand for oil and the movement of trade and markets.

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Financial experts who spoke to Al Arabiya predicted that Saudi Arabia is heading to record its lowest fiscal deficit in eight years in the 2021 budget, as the budget deficit is expected to decrease this year to 85 billion riyals.

Experts said the expected announcement of the lowest fiscal deficit in eight years is mainly thanks to the rise in oil prices from the levels of 2020, which witnessed prices at the level of $16/barrel in April 2020.

In November, Ratings agency Moody's changed Saudi Arabia's outlook to “stable” from “negative”, saying it was likely the government would reverse most of its 2020 debt increase while preserving fiscal buffers.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Head of Research at Al-Rajhi Capital Mazen Al-Sudairi said he expected the deficit to decline to 85 billion riyals in 2021, compared to an expected deficit of about 141 billion riyals, given that spending did not exceed 1.15 trillion riyals during the year.

Al-Sudairi said he expected oil income to rise to 545 billion riyals in 2021, and to reach 600 billion riyals in 2022, and non-oil income to reach 380 billion riyals, and the budget will achieve a surplus of 25 billion riyals in 2022, compared to an estimated deficit.

He explained that these expectations come despite the reservations in expectations regarding oil production with an average of 9.6 million barrels per day in 2022, while there are optimistic expectations at 10.7 million barrels per day, and despite the fluctuation in asset prices and fears so far from the COVID-19 Omicron variant, adding that he expects that the price of a barrel will be oil could reach $72 in 2022.

The largest Arab economy recorded a budget surplus of 6.7 billion riyals ($1.79 billion) in the third quarter this year, as higher oil prices fueled its first quarterly surplus since 2019.

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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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