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Japan calls for defense spending hike in policy paper, notes threats to Taiwan

Japan wants to drastically increase defense spending “within the next five years” it said on Tuesday in an annual economic policy document that for the first time mentioned both a time frame for the expenditure and concern about threats faced by Taiwan.

Neither the five-year period or the reference to the democratic, independent island that China considers as part of its territory, had figured in a draft of the document last week.

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Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only the island’s people can decide their future.

Japan and the United States “emphasized the importance and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and a peaceful resolution of any problems on both sides,” the document said in a footnote that was a reference to a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo last month.

The policy roadmap, Kishida’s first since taking office in October, serves as a blueprint for the next fiscal year’s budget though any major increase in military outlays would stretch Japan’s already-strained public finances.

The mention of Taiwan comes after Biden said Washington was willing to use force to defend Taiwan against any attack by China.

Last year’s roadmap, in contrast said only that Japan would significantly increase defense spending as necessary, and did not mention Taiwan.

Alarm has grown in Tokyo about Taiwan, following an uptick in Chinese military activity in East Asia. Along with Japan’s neighboring island of Okinawa, Taiwan hems in Beijing’s forces.

Breaching that line would directly threaten sea lanes that supply Japan’s economy with most of its oil.

China says its recent drills near Taiwan, which have included regular incursions by its aircraft into the island’s air defense zone, are aimed at deterring “collusion” between the United States and Taiwan, and to defend China’s sovereignty.

Tuesday’s document, which ranged over issues from energy security to Kishida’s ‘new capitalism’ economic policy, did not say how much a commitment to “drastically strengthen” defense spending would be.

But it referred to a two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) commitment made by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Japan now spends just over one percent of GDP on its Self Defense Forces.

Even if Kishida’s government finds money to double defense spending, it would still leave Japan far behind China, which already spends almost five times as much on its military.

The government kept open the door for increased bond issuance, saying it would not narrow “important” policy options in its budget formulation for the next fiscal year.

Kishida, who faces a national election in July, is under pressure to pass a second supplementary budget following one of 2.7 trillion yen ($20.34 billion) in May, to help blunt the impact of recent rises in commodity prices.

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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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