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Damaged, UK’s Boris Johnson scrapes win in party confidence vote

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a confidence vote on Monday but a large rebellion in his Conservative Party over the so-called “partygate” scandal dealt a blow to his authority and leaves him with a struggle to win back support.

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Johnson, who scored a sweeping election victory in 2019, has been under increasing pressure after he and staff held alcohol-fueled parties in his Downing Street office and residence when Britain was under lockdowns to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote was a blow to Johnson, with 41 percent of his lawmakers casting ballots against his leadership after months of scandals and gaffes that has raised questions over his authority to govern Britain and knocked his standing among the public.

But Johnson, a master of political comebacks, instead described the vote as a “decisive result” meaning that “as a government we can move on and focus on the stuff that I think really matters to people.”

“We can focus on what we’re doing to help people with the cost of living, what we’re doing to clear the COVID backlogs, what we’re doing to make streets and communities safer by putting more police out,” said Johnson, who for weeks has tried to move the national conversation away from “partygate.”

It is a change of fortune for Johnson and underlines the depth of anger against him. He was met with a chorus of jeers and boos, and some muted cheers, at events to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth in recent days.

Several lawmakers said the vote, which saw 211 lawmakers cast ballots in favor of Johnson against 148, was worse than expected for a prime minister, once seemingly unassailable after winning the Conservatives’ largest majority in more than three decades.

“Boris Johnson will be relieved at this vote. But he will also understand that the next priority is to rebuild the cohesion of the party,” David Jones, a former minister, told Reuters. “I am sure he will be equal to the challenge.”

Others were less optimistic, with one Conservative lawmaker saying on condition of anonymity: “It is clearly much worse than most people were expecting. But it is too early to say what will happens now.”

Roger Gale, a long-time critic of Johnson, urged the prime minister “to go back to Downing Street tonight and consider very carefully where he goes from here”.

12-month reprieve

By winning the confidence vote, Johnson has secured a reprieve for 12 months when lawmakers cannot bring another challenge. But his predecessor Theresa May scored better in her 2018 confidence vote only to resign six months later.

Dozens of Conservative lawmakers have voiced concern over whether Johnson, 57, has lost his authority to govern Britain, which is facing the risk of recession, rising fuel and food prices and strike-inflicted travel chaos in the capital London.

But his Cabinet rallied around him and highlighted what they said were the successes of the government: a quick rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and Britain’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A majority of the Conservatives’ lawmakers – at least 180 – would have had to vote against Johnson for him to be removed.

Earlier, a spokesperson for Johnson’s Downing Street office said the vote would “allow the government to draw a line and move on” and that the prime minister welcomed the opportunity to make his case to lawmakers.

Johnson, a former London mayor, rose to power at Westminster as the face of the Brexit campaign in a 2016 referendum, and won the 2019 election with the slogan to “get Brexit done.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister, told Sky News that completing Britain’s departure from the European Union would be “significantly at risk without his drive and energy.”

Johnson has locked horns with Brussels over Northern Ireland, raising the prospect of more barriers for British trade and alarming leaders in Ireland, Europe and the United States about risks to the province’s 1998 peace deal.

But it was the months of stories of what went on in Downing Street, including fights and alcohol-induced vomiting, when many people were prevented from saying goodbye to loved ones at funerals, that did the real damage.

The move led to lawmakers from different wings of the party revealing that they had turned against their leader. One former ally accused the prime minister of insulting both the electorate and the party by staying in power.

“You have presided over a culture of casual law-breaking at 10 Downing Street in relation to COVID,” Jesse Norman, a former junior minister, said before the vote.

Johnson’s anti-corruption chief John Penrose also quit.

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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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