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Lebanese party’s bid to limit overseas vote fails

Lebanon’s Constitutional Council on Tuesday said an electoral appeal by the country’s top Christian party had not been upheld, further complicating the country’s fragile political balance before elections due next year.

Judge Tannous Meshleb, who heads the council, said its members had differing legal opinions about the appeal, which was brought by President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) party and would have limited the influence of expatriate voters.

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The Constitutional Council is Lebanon’s top body for deciding constitutional matters. At least seven of its 10 members must rule in favor in order for an appeal to be upheld.

More than 244,000 overseas Lebanese voters have registered for the upcoming elections, three times as many as last time round. Many are expected to vote against establishment parties such as the FPM in protest at the country’s financial collapse.

Lebanon has around 4 million registered voters, of which less than half voted during the 2018 election. Some seats were decided by a few hundred or a few thousand votes.

Next year’s polls are currently set for March 27 but Aoun has said they will be pushed till May.

His party’s frustration at the council’s decision risks hampering ongoing efforts to reconvene the already fractious governing coalition, more than two months after it last met.

The coalition government is formed from parties that represent different sectarian constituencies and it is led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The appeal had sought to limit expatriate votes to six new seats, rather than all seats in the 128-member legislature.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the FPM, said in a news conference on Tuesday that the reform would in fact have helped overseas voters by creating a group of lawmakers who represent only them.

A senior party source said the party would “not accept” any ruling other than one in favor of the appeal, adding the issue could escalate politically.

The source did not provide more details.

Lebanese media has reported attempts to reach a deal related to the appeal that would have allowed the government to reconvene if the FPM accepted demands from Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally in government, the Amal Movement, to remove the judge investigating the catastrophic Beirut port blast of 2020, whom they accuse of bias.

Mikati said in a statement on Monday that he had told both Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri, Amal’s leader, that he was opposed to any interference in judicial affairs.

All sides have denied seeking such a deal, and Meshleb said he had not received political demands.

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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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