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WHO members to consider shutting Europe hub office in Russia over Ukraine: Document

World Health Organization states will consider a resolution against Russia next week after its invasion of Ukraine, including the possible closure of a major regional office in Moscow, a document obtained by Reuters showed on Thursday.

The resolution, to be considered on Tuesday, stopped short of harsher sanctions such as suspending Russia from the UN global health agency’s board as well as a temporary freeze of its voting rights, three diplomatic and political sources said.

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The draft, prepared largely by EU diplomats and submitted to the WHO’s regional office for Europe this week, follows a request by Ukraine, signed by at least 38 other members including Turkey, France and Germany.

The move is seen as a political step that would further Western efforts to isolate Moscow, rather than having any significant health consequences for Russia or global health policy, which diplomats said they were at pains to avoid.

The text refers to a health emergency in Ukraine and is set to condemn Russia’s military actions which it said had resulted in mass casualties, disruptions to health services, increased risks of death from chronic diseases, increased risks of infectious diseases and of radiological and chemical events in Ukraine, the region and beyond.

It asks the regional director, Hans Kluge, to explore the “possible relocation” of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases outside Russia. It is now located in Moscow from where it covers the entire region. It does not suggest closing the WHO’s country office, also in Moscow, that was established in 1998.

The resolution calls for a possible suspension of all meetings in Russia. It tasks WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to prepare a report on Ukraine’s health emergency to its main annual World Health Assembly (WHA) later this month.

Russia, a member of the WHO’s European region, has not responded to requests for comment on the meeting and its agenda sent to its diplomatic mission in Geneva where the WHO is based.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. It denies targeting civilians. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

A spokesperson for WHO Europe confirmed that a draft resolution that had yet to be officially published would be discussed at the meeting on May 10. He said he expected Russia to attend the session.

It says there have been 191 attacks on Ukraine’s health infrastructure since the invasion began on Feb. 24, causing 75 deaths – a toll Tedros described as “utterly unacceptable.” The WHO does not assign responsibility for those attacks.

Harsher measures?

The suspension of Russia from the WHO Executive Board sought by Ukraine had been dropped due to legal technicalities, the sources said, although it was still possible that the voting rights freeze is considered at the WHA from May 22-28.

Article 7 of the WHO constitution allows for voting privileges to be frozen in the event of “exceptional circumstances” although that justification has rarely been used in the body’s 74-year history. It was put into effect against apartheid South Africa in 1964.

Ukraine’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia was suspended from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council last month over reports of “systematic violations and abuses of human rights” in Ukraine and from the UN World Tourism Organization, although Russia says it quit both.

A diplomat following the discussions said that some WHO members were concerned that harsher WHO sanctions against Russia could pose broader health risks.

“It’s different from economic areas,” he told Reuters. “We don’t want part of the world to go dark on infectious diseases.”

Read more: Russia stalled near Donbas, looking to cut power for railroads in Ukraine: Pentagon

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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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