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Hundreds take to the streets in rare southern Syria protest: Monitor

Hundreds took to the streets of a southern Syrian city on Friday to demand better living conditions and democracy in a rare protest inside regime-held areas, a war monitor said.

More than 300 protesters, gathering for a fifth consecutive day in Sweida after authorities cut off 600,000 families from its subsidies program, staged their biggest rally yet, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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“We want a civil, just, democratic state,” a young man told a cheering crowd of demonstrators in video footage broadcast by local media network Suwayda24.

The footage shows protesters raising the flag of the Druze, a religious minority whose heartland is Sweida.

In one video, an elderly man in traditional Druze costume lamented price hikes.

“We cannot live or get our rights, we don't have any gas or diesel,” he told the crowd. “We want to live in a homeland that guarantees our dignity and our rights.”

The rally went ahead despite a heavy deployment of security forces, who sealed off main roads.

Earlier this month, the government excluded a large number of people from its subsidies program, in a country where 90 percent of the population is poor.

Those who were cut off lost access to lower-priced food and oil, a move that triggered rare protests and criticism from within government-held areas of Syria.

Most protesters took to the streets for the first time in their lives to demand better living conditions, while others demanded democracy, Nour Radwan of Suwayda24 told AFP.

Smaller protests over similar issues were held in Sweida in 2020.

But the Druze, who made up less than three percent of Syria's pre-war population, largely kept out of the country’s conflict.

Sweida has been mostly spared by the fighting in the decade-old war, and only faced sporadic jihadist attacks which were repelled.

Syria has grappled with an economic crisis compounded by Western sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic and a rapid devaluation of the local currency.

Read more: Syria’s main Druze city sees more unrest, calls for Friday protests

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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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