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UN chief warns Lebanon Cabinet paralysis may dampen international support

The UN chief warned Tuesday that the international community is unlikely to come forth with much-needed support for Lebanon amid its persistent government paralysis and as the country struggles through a “very dramatic” crisis.

Antonio Guterres’ remarks came at the end of his three-day visit during which he repeatedly urged Lebanon’s political leadership to work together to resolve the economic and financial crisis. He also met with members of civil society groups and the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

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The crisis has pushed more than three quarters of Lebanon’s population of 6 million into poverty; the national currency is in perpetual collapse while the Lebanese blame the political leadership for years of corruption and mismanagement.

Guterres said several initiatives were in the works to help Lebanon deal with the crisis, including holding an international conference, but that the government’s paralysis bodes ill for international support.

“The international community will probably… not be responding as we need to respond if they see the country paralyzed and if they do not see a number of clear reforms in relation to the economic, social and the political life of the country, guaranteeing that the Lebanese institutions are putting the country on the right track,” Guterres told reporters.

Lebanon’s Cabinet has not met since mid-October amid a disagreement over the course of a domestic probe into the massive August 2020 explosion in Beirut’s port that killed over 200 and injured thousands. Powerful political groups accuse the judge leading the investigation of bias and demand he be removed.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati insists the probe is in the hands of the judiciary and refuses to interfere. Mikati himself came to office after a deadlock that lasted over a year as politicians haggled over the distribution of power within the Cabinet.

Lebanon’s political system is based on a delicately balanced sectarian power-sharing agreement that often holds decision-making hostage to backroom deals. The current paralysis has also impacted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a much-needed recovery plan.

The international community has declined to offer help until Lebanon’s government implements major reforms. Humanitarian aid has been dispersed to deal with worsening living conditions while the government struggles with empty coffers, dwindling foreign reserves and revenues, and an increasingly desperate population.

Guterres called for an independent and impartial investigation into the port explosion, saying the people “deserve answers.” Three UN staffers lost family members in the blast, including two children.

Asked if he would call for an international probe, Guterres said that if an impartial and fully independent Lebanese investigation cannot be guaranteed, then “I believe it would be important for the international community to act.”

Lebanon’s government has previously dismissed an international probe, calling it a waste of resources and time.

Read more: UN chief lays wreath at Beirut port, urges accountability for blast

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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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