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UN Secretary-General on solidarity visit to crisis-hit Lebanon

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Lebanon on Sunday, on a high-profile visit he said will focus on supporting the people of the crisis-stricken country.

Guterres is expected to press for reforms from the country’s political leaders, who have been deeply divided over key issues leading to a paralysis of the government and parliament. The divisions have delayed key reforms needed to get negotiations with the International Monetary Fund off the ground.

The political class is also divided over the domestic probe into the disastrous August 2020 Beirut Port explosion that killed over 216 people, injured thousands and compounded Lebanon’s problems after leaving large parts of the capital destroyed.

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Guterres is planning to visit the port to pay a tribute to those killed in the explosion and meet with families of the victims. He said his visit is dedicated to showing support to the Lebanese and urge leaders to take steps to overcome the crisis. He is also meeting President Michel Aoun.

“When I was high commissioner for refugees, I came many times to Lebanon and I could see the solidarity of the people of Lebanon with so many refugees. And I believe this is the moment for us all in the world to express the same solidarity with the people of Lebanon," Guterres said upon arrival. "So if there is a word to characterize my visit, that word is solidarity.”

In a message broadcast Friday before he arrived, Guterres urged Lebanon's political leaders to “put the people first” and implement reforms that promote accountability and transparency and root out corruption.

The economic collapse in Lebanon has been described as one of the worst in the world in over 150 years. Inflation and prices of basic goods have skyrocketed in Lebanon, which imports more than 80 percent of its basic goods.

Shortages of basic supplies, including fuel and medicine, and restrictions on bank withdrawals and transfers, particularly in foreign currency, have increased the desperation of the Lebanese in the once middle-class country.

Poverty has increased exponentially while the political class, blamed for years of corruption and mismanagement, has failed to offer drastic solutions to the crisis. International donors have extended humanitarian assistance to Lebanon to deal with the crisis, but decline to offer support to the government before a plan for reform is agreed upon.

Guterres also stressed that next year’s elections will be key for laying the foundations for a better future.

Politicians are also divided over the date and details of holding the elections, expected next spring. A decision by the country’s constitutional council is expected to settle the dispute.

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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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