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N. Korean leader Kim attends concert glorifying his power along with wife

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife attended a Lunar New Year’s Day concert in Pyongyang where he received thunderous cheers from audience members and artists who praised him for heralding a “new era” of national power, state media reported.

The North’s official media has been highlighting Kim’s authoritarian leadership following a spree of missile tests in January, which some experts see as an attempt to pressure Washington over deadlocked nuclear negotiations after two years of pandemic border closures and economic decay.

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The Biden administration has called for the UN Security Council to meet on Thursday to discuss North Korea’s most recent test of an intermediate-range missile potentially capable of reaching Guam, a key US military hub in the Pacific. Sunday’s test signaled a resumption of major weapons testing that Kim had suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with then-US President Donald Trump.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major release of crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday said Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were greeted with “stormy cheers” after arriving at Pyongyang’s massive Mansudae Art Theater for Tuesday’s concert. KCNA said the audience appreciated that Kim was “ushering in on this land a new world and a new era when the people’s ideals and happiness and desire for building a powerful country are comprehensively translated into reality.”

Artists performed songs and dances that demonstrated the “single-minded unity” of North Korean people and their devotion to build a socialist country “to be envied by the world,” the report said.

North Korean TV on Tuesday showed Kim galloping through a forest on a white horse – a symbol associated with his family’s dynastic rule over the country – in a new documentary praising his alleged accomplishments in 2021, including anti-virus campaigns, construction projects and weapons development.

One scene showed Kim -– noticeably slimmer than in previous months –- walking gingerly at a rainy construction site as a narrator said he showed his “motherly side by entirely devoting his body into realizing people’s dreams.”

South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers in October that Kim has lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) in weight, but that he remains healthy and is trying to boost public loyalty to him as he navigates the toughest period of his rule due to economic hardships worsened by the pandemic.

The North’s accelerated weapons tests, which came amid efforts to strengthen internal unity and tighten the government’s grip over the economy, possibly reflect a sense of urgency within Pyongyang’s leadership for outside relief, analysts say.

While tentatively reopening freight train traffic with China last month, Kim is also reviving his playbook in brinkmanship to wrest concessions from the Biden administration, which has offered open-ended talks but shown no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon his nuclear weapons program.

Sunday’s flight test of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile marked the longest-distance weapon the North has tested since 2017, when it twice flew Hwasong-12s over Japan and, separately, three intercontinental ballistic missiles that demonstrated the potential to reach deep into the American homeland.

The launch came days after Kim called a ruling party meeting where officials issued a veiled threat to end the North’s 2018 moratorium on the testing of nuclear devices and longer-range missiles, citing US hostility.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa by phone and condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic tests, which were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and vowed trilateral cooperation with South Korea to deal with the North Korean threat, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Experts say the North could halt its testing spree after the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics this week out of respect for China, its major ally and economic lifeline. But there are also expectations it could significantly up the ante in weapons demonstrations once the Olympics end later this month to grab the attention of the Biden administration, which has been focusing more on confronting China and Russia over its conflict with Ukraine.

Read more: UN chief condemns N. Korea moratorium-breaching missile test

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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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