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Northern Ireland govt on hold as Brexit tensions mount

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party cranked up the prospects of a prolonged political crisis following the resignation of the region’s First Minister, warning it won’t return to the power-sharing Executive unless issues related to Brexit are resolved.

“The DUP will not be involved in forming a government in Northern Ireland until those issues have been satisfactorily addressed,” the party’s leader Jeffrey Donaldson said Friday, referring to tensions over the Northern Irish Protocol, the part of the Brexit agreement which deals with trade to the region from the rest of the UK.

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Northern Ireland’s government was effectively paralyzed after the abrupt resignation of First Minister Paul Givan late Thursday forced the subsequent end of Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill’s position as Deputy First Minister. The Executive can no longer meet or make decisions, basically freezing the legislative agenda.

“Some of the ministries will function but there will be no capacity to set budgets or to make any decisions beyond what was already agreed,” said Peter Shirlow, Director and Chair of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

Under the Good Friday agreement, the first minister and deputy first minister – one unionist and one nationalist – have equal powers and one cannot be in place without the other.

Trade Dispute

The DUP’s condition seems unlikely to be met soon. While the EU and UK have struck a more positive tone since Liz Truss was promoted to Foreign Secretary, there’s been no substantive progress and the latest developments are set to cause more chaos.

Truss and EU Vice President Maros Sefcovic are due to meet again on February 11 to discuss their broader post-Brexit dispute.

Northern Ireland was effectively kept in the EU’s single market to avoid creating a hard border on the island of Ireland when the UK left the EU.

Over time, the protocol has become a political sore: Britain has threatened to suspend it unilaterally unless it is changed; the EU has accused the UK of being reluctant to implement a binding deal; and the DUP has pushed for it to be scrapped entirely.

Why Northern Ireland Trade Poses a Brexit Conundrum

“The Protocol cannot be brought down unless the whole Withdrawal Agreement goes,” said Shirlow. What the DUP may have miscalculated is that some supporters have left them as they “simply want the Protocol to be mitigated and better outcomes gained,” he added.

One hope of reviving a functioning government is through an election, though even then both leading parties have to agree to take up the Executive posts.

“We won’t get a functioning Executive until there’s an election, said Katy Hayward,” professor of political sociology at Queen’s University Belfast in an interview. “We don’t know when it’s going to be, though Sinn Fein are calling for an early election, which makes it more likely.”

An election is scheduled to be held on or before May 5, though Sinn Fein have called for it to be held earlier following Givan’s resignation. Ultimately it’s up to UK Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis to decide.

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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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