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Ex-Afghan president: Biden order on frozen funds an ‘atrocity’

Afghanistan’s former president on Sunday called a White House order to unfreeze $3.5 billion in Afghan assets held in the US for families of 9/11 victims an atrocity against the Afghan people.
Former President Hamid Karzai at a packed news conference sought the help of Americans, particularly the families of the thousands killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to press President Joe Biden to rescind last week’s order. He called it “unjust and unfair,” saying Afghans have also been victims of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
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Bin Laden was brought to Afghanistan by Afghan warlords after being expelled from Sudan in 1996. Those same warlords would later ally with the US-led coalition to oust the Taliban in 2001. However, it was Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar who refused to hand over bin Laden to the US after the devastating 9/11 attacks that killed thousands.
“The people of Afghanistan share the pain of the American people, share the pain of the families and loved ones of those who died, who lost their lives in the tragedy of September 11,” said Karzai. “We commiserate with them [but] Afghan people are as much victims as those families who lost their lives… Withholding money or seizing money from the people of Afghanistan in their name is unjust and unfair and an atrocity against Afghan people.”
President Biden’s order signed last Friday freed $7 billion in Afghan assets currently held in the US, to be divided between 9/11 victims and humanitarian aid to Afghans.
September 11 victims and their families have legal claims against the Taliban and the $7 billion in the US banking system. The $3.5 billion was set aside for a US court to decide whether it can be used to settle claims by families of 9/11 victims. US courts would also have to sign off before the release of humanitarian assistance money.
We “ask the US courts to do the opposite, to return the Afghan money back to the Afghan people,” said Karzai. “This money does not belong to any government… this money belongs to the people of Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s order calls for the $3.5 billion allocated to humanitarian aid to be put into a trust and be used to assist Afghans, bypassing their Taliban rulers.
But Karzai demanded all $7 billion be returned to Afghanistan’s Central Bank to further its monetary policy. He argued against giving Afghan reserves to international aid organizations to provide humanitarian aid.
“You give us our own money so that it can be spent for those foreigners who come here, to pay their salaries, to give it to [non-governmental organizations],” he said.
Afghanistan’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming into the country with the arrival in mid-August of the Taliban. Last month, the United Nations made a $5 billion appeal for Afghanistan. The UN warns that one million children are in danger of starving and 90 percent of Afghans live below the poverty level of just $1.90 a day.
Karzai was Afghanistan’s first democratically elected president after the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. He served until 2014 before Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country on August 15, leaving the doors open for the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
arzai was highly regarded as embracing all of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups but his administration, like subsequent Afghan administrations, was dogged by charges of widespread corruption.
Karzai spoke to a packed press conference inside his sprawling compound in the capital of Kabul. Dozens of Afghanistan’s Pashto- and Persian-language journalists jockeyed for space in a second-floor conference room with more than a dozen television cameras.
Karzai used the news conference to press the country’s Taliban rulers and their opponents to find a way to come together. He lobbied for the traditional Afghan grand council, or loya jirga, as a means to find consensus and establish a more representative administration.
“We, as Afghans, and the current acting Islamic government must do our best to not give America or any other country any excuse to be against us,” he said.
Anger has been growing in Afghanistan since Friday’s White House announcement. Demonstrators marched again in Kabul on Sunday demanding the money be returned to Afghanistan. However, the Taliban, who have also condemned Biden’s order, dispersed protesters as they tried to gather near the city’s Eid Gah mosque.
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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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