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Another member of Sri Lanka’s ruling family quits

Another member of Sri Lanka’s ruling family quit public office on Thursday, denying responsibility for an economic crisis that has caused severe hardship in the island nation.

Basil Rajapaksa was once nicknamed “Mr. Ten Percent” in a BBC interview, in reference to commissions he allegedly skimmed from government contracts. He has insisted that he had committed no wrongdoing in office.

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The 71-year-old had until April served as finance minister under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his elder brother, who has stared down months of protests demanding his resignation for economic mismanagement.

“I entered parliament to manage the economy, but since I am no longer the finance minister, there is no point in remaining an MP,” Basil told reporters in Colombo.

During the younger Rajapaksa's tenure, Sri Lanka began to suffer acute shortages of food, fuel, medicines and other essential goods that continue to this day.

The crisis was sparked by dwindling foreign currency reserves — blamed on unsustainable tax cuts brought in by the president in 2019 — that left importers unable to pay for goods.

Queues for petrol at filling stations have stretched for hours and sometimes even days, while many businesses have shut because they have run out of diesel fuel to power generators during prolonged blackouts.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt shortly after Basil left the finance ministry and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

But Basil insisted that he was not responsible for the country’s painful downturn.

“I did not create the crisis, it was already there when I took over the finance ministry,” he said.

Basil, also a citizen of the United States, was nominated to parliament for a second time in 2021 after his brother Gotabaya scrapped constitutional provisions barring dual citizens from becoming legislators.

On Thursday he said he was motivated to return to parliament to clear his name and noted authorities had last week withdrawn a long-running corruption investigation against him.

The probe centered on claims that he had amassed wealth and assets which could not be explained by income from his government salary.

Basil's announcement comes a month after the resignation of his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the island’s prime minister.

Mahinda stepped down on May 9 after his supporters attacked peaceful protesters in the capital Colombo, sparking violence that saw at least nine people killed and arson attacks on dozens of homes belonging to government lawmakers.

A replacement for Basil was not immediately named, but sources from his party said he could soon be succeeded by Dhammika Perera, a casino magnate and Rajapaksa loyalist.

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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

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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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