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US slaps sanctions on China firms in painkiller crackdown

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Chinese painkiller makers, vowing to step up action over the addiction epidemic that kills hundreds of Americans daily.

The sanctions came under a new executive order by President Joe Biden that makes it easier for the United States to target foreign drug traffickers.

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The actions “will help disrupt the global supply chain and the financial networks that enable synthetic opioids and precursor chemicals to reach the United States,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on four Chinese chemical companies and one individual, Chuen Fat Yip.

The United States said it was offering up to $5 million for the arrest of Chuen, calling him “one of the largest, if not the largest, producer of anabolic steroids in the world.”

Chuen and his company, Wuhan Yuancheng Gongchuang Technology Co. Ltd, operate out of China and Hong Kong and use cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin in international shipments of fentanyl, steroids and drug compounds, the Treasury said.

“I think it’s very simple that a lot of the precursors to synthetic opioids originate in China,” a Biden administration official said.

“And it was important for us to send a signal on that front.”

The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on two criminal drug groups in Mexico and one in Brazil.

The sanctions will block any assets in the United States that the groups or Chuen may have and criminalize transactions from the United States.

A record of more than 100,000 Americans died in the year through April from overdoses of painkillers, an epidemic initially blamed on how drug companies eagerly promoted their use, and how readily available they became to people in despair.

Painkiller addiction has spiked more recently due to a proliferation of fake drugs, often smuggled in from overseas, that can be bought online.

The executive order allows the United States to target foreign drug makers directly rather than focusing on cartels or other criminal groups, historically the focus of US efforts.

Biden also established the US Council on Transnational Organized Crime, which will coordinate among departments to combat transnational crime.

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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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