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Prime Minister Modi visits Indian-controlled Kashmir amid tight security

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Himalayan Kashmir on Sunday his first public event since New Delhi stripped the disputed region’s semi-autonomy and took direct control in 2019.

Modi remotely inaugurated a tunnel and work on two hydropower projects before delivering a speech that was punctuated by his government's developmental achievements. He said that the territory was put on a path of unprecedented development since 2019 but made no political commitments to the region’s people, who have been without an elected local government for four years.

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“Let me assure the youth of the valley that they will not face difficulties and tribulations that their parents and grandparents faced,” Modi said, referring to the Kashmir Valley, the heartland of anti-India sentiment.

His speech was a part of a function to commemorate the annual Panchayati Raj, or grassroots democracy, Day.

One of the power projects he laid foundation to on Sunday was first commissioned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013.

Tens of thousands of people and elected officials from local councils across the region assembled in Palli village near Jammu city for the speech, which was held amid amid tight security. The area visited by Modi generally welcomed the Indian government’s changes of Kashmir's status nearly three years ago.

Officials say the councils represent grassroots governance but its members have no legislative powers.

Government forces fanned out across Kashmir to thwart any violence. On Friday, two suspected militants and a paramilitary officer were killed in a gunfight some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Palli.
Police chief Dilbag Singh said the slain militants were a “suicide squad from Pakistan” likely sent to sabotage Modi’s visit. He did not offer any evidence to back up his claim.

Modi’s two previous visits after Kashmir’s status was changed were to military camps to celebrate a Hindu festival with soldiers.

In 2019, Modi’s government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, annulled its separate constitution, split the area into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and removed inherited protections on land and jobs amid unprecedented lockdown. The region has remained on edge since, as authorities put in place a slew of new laws that critics and many residents fear could change majority-Muslim Kashmir’s demographics.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both rivals claim the region in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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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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