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Russia-backed separatist leader suggests Ukraine surrender new territory

The Russian-backed separatist leader of a Ukrainian breakaway region said on Wednesday that Ukrainian government forces should withdraw from territory that his self-proclaimed state lays claim to and take their weapons with them.

TASS cited Denis Pushilin, head of the “Donetsk People's Republic”, as telling Russian state media that such a scenario would be the optimal one.

Russia this week recognized two breakaway Ukrainian regions, including Pushilin's, as independent states, drawing sanctions from the West and anger from Ukraine which calls people like Pushilin Russian proxies and wants its territory back.

The separatists lay claim to a much larger swath of territory in Ukraine than they currently control.

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Pushilin had earlier said on Wednesday he wanted to peacefully settle the border issue with Ukraine via talks but reserved the right to ask “big Russia” for help.

But he also told a news conference the situation in their long-running conflict had become critical and the separatists had accelerated a mobilization of forces, in which healthy men between 18 and 55 have been called up to fight.

“We will win. With people like this, we will win. With such a country, with big Russia, which we respect and value,” he said. “We have no right to lose, or even to doubt in our victory.”

Russia's recognition of the self-proclaimed statelets on Monday was declared illegal by Western countries, which have imposed new sanctions against Moscow.

The move has taken the Ukraine crisis into a new phase as the treaties Russian President Vladimir Putin signed with separatist leaders on Monday provide a legal pretext for Russia to send in its forces in support of the separatists, who now control only a fraction of the two regions of eastern Ukraine that they claim.

Asked if they would try to expand their territory, Pushilin said: “We are not yet at that stage, we're at the stage when the enemy's forces are on the line of contact and can move onto the offensive at any moment.”

Ukraine strongly denies accusations by the separatists that it is bent on recapturing territory by force, and has rejected a series of Russian and separatist reports about alleged attacks.

Speaking alongside Pushilin, Andrey Turchak, a senior member of Russia's ruling party, said no force in the world could change the legal result of Russia's recognition.

“For us, the slogan 'Russia doesn't abandon its own people' – these are not empty words,” Turchak said. “I am glad we have all united around this idea, the Russian idea, the restoration and preservation of the Russian world.”

He said it was unlikely that any agreement could be reached with the current Ukrainian government.

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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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