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Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy Stand News outlet, arrest six

Hundreds of Hong Kong national security police raided the office of online pro-democracy media outlet Stand News on Wednesday and arrested six people, including senior staff, for suspected “seditious publications” offences.

Stand News, set up in 2014 as a non-profit, is the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a national security probe earlier this year led to the closure of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai's iconic Apple Daily tabloid.

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The raid further raises concerns about media freedoms in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise a wide range of individual rights would be protected.

Police said in a statement it had a warrant authorizing it “to search and seize relevant journalistic materials.”

“Over 200 uniformed and plain clothes police officers have been deployed,” the statement said.

Separately, police said they had arrested three men and three women, aged 34 to 73, without naming them, for “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.”

Ronson Chan, Stand News deputy assignment editor and the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was not among those arrested, but said police confiscated his computer, iPhone, iPad, press pass and banking records during an early morning search of his residence.

“Stand News has always reported news professionally,” he added. Other senior staff could not be reached for comment.

The Stand News office in an industrial building in the Kwun Tong working class district was partially sealed off, with scores of police milling about the lobby and four vans parked downstairs.

Officers were seen loading about three dozen boxes of documents and other materials seized as evidence onto a truck.

Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the police actions were an “open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom.”

The government's Security Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Authorities have repeatedly said all prosecutions are based on evidence and had nothing to do with the profession of the people arrested.

SEDITIOUS

Sedition is not among the offences listed under the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on the city in June 2020 that punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.

But recent court judgements have freed authorities to use powers conferred by the new legislation to deploy previously sparsely used colonial era laws, including the Crime Ordinance which covers sedition.

Authorities say the security law has restored order after often-violent pro-democracy unrest in 2019. Critics say the legislation is a tool to quash dissent and has set the global financial hub on an authoritarian path.

“When a free press … is labelled 'seditious', it is a symbol of the speed at which this once great open international city has descended into little more than a police state,” Benedict Rogers, chief executive of rights group Hong Kong Watch, said in a statement.

In June, hundreds of police raided the premises of Apple Daily, arresting executives for alleged “collusion with a foreign country.” The newspaper subsequently shut down after police froze its assets.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed an additional “seditious publication” charge against Lai and six other former Apple Daily staff.

Police had not disclosed which Apple Daily or Stand News articles they considered seditious.

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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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