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No trips for Afghan women unless escorted by male relative, Taliban issue guidance

Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said on Sunday that women seeking to travel anything other than short distances should not be offered transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative.

The guidance, issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also called on all vehicle owners to offer rides only to those women wearing hijabs.

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“Women travelling for more than 45 miles (72 kilometers) should not be offered a ride if they are not accompanied by a close family member,” ministry spokesman Sadeq Akif Muhajir told AFP on Sunday, specifying that it must be a close male relative.

The guidance, circulated on social media networks, comes weeks after the ministry asked Afghanistan’s television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women actors.

The ministry had also called on women TV journalists to wear hijabs while presenting.

Muhajir said on Sunday that the hijab would also be required for women seeking transport. The ministry’s directive also asked people to stop playing music in their vehicles.

The Taliban’s interpretation of the hijab — which can range from a hair covering to a face veil or full-body covering — is unclear, and the majority of Afghan women already wear headscarves.

Since taking power in August, the Taliban have imposed various restrictions on women and girls, despite pledging a softer rule compared with their first stint in power in the 1990s.

In several provinces, local Taliban authorities have been persuaded to reopen schools — but many girls still remain cut off from secondary education.

Early this month, the group issued a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing the government to enforce women’s rights.

The decree did not mention girls’ access to education.

Activists hope that the Taliban’s battle to gain international recognition and get aid flowing back into one of the poorest countries in the world will lead to them making concessions to women.

Respect for women’s rights has repeatedly been cited by key global donors as a condition for restoring aid.

Women’s rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban’s previous stint in power.

They were then forced to wear the all-covering burqa, only allowed to leave home with a male chaperone and banned from work and education.

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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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