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Uzbekistan protesters tried to seize buildings: Authorities

Authorities in Uzbekistan said Saturday that they had arrested “organizers of mass riots” who wanted to seize administrative buildings in an autonomous republic that witnessed rare protests over constitutional reform proposals.

The Friday demonstration in the Republic of Karakalpakstan brought thousands onto the streets of the regional capital and followed the publication of draft amendments to the Uzbek constitution that weaken the republic’s status and should go to referendum in the coming months.

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Spontaneous demonstrations are illegal in the authoritarian ex-Soviet republic and police said Friday that “order had been restored” in the area taken over by the demonstration.

The tightly controlled government has made no mention of casualties.

The proposed constitutional changes will strip the Republic of Karakalpakstan of its nominal “sovereign” status and remove its constitutional right to secede from Uzbekistan via referendum.

Constitutional commission member and lawmaker Odiljon Tozhiyev said Saturday that the commission was observing the situation in the republic and would take opinions expressed online in the republic into account.

Nevertheless, “provocateurs who tried to cause riots do not represent the general opinion of the Karakalpak people,” Tozhiyev said.

Authorities in Karakalpakstan, who are beholden to central government despite legal autonomy, have taken a harder line.

A joint statement by the republic’s police, parliament and cabinet said that “provocateurs” had attempted “to seize state institutions… split the society and destabilize the socio-political situation in Uzbekistan.”

“A group of organizers of mass riots and people who actively resisted law enforcement agencies have been detained. Investigative actions are underway against them,” the Saturday statement said, blaming unrest on a “criminal group.”

Internet has been patchy in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, a western region of two million people that has been devastated by the drying of the Aral Sea. Once the world’s fourth largest lake, it shrank massively due to Soviet agricultural policies.

With a total population of 35 million people, Uzbekistan is Muslim-majority Central Asia’s most populous country.

Beyond changes to the region’s status, Uzbekistan’s new constitution is also expected to re-introduce seven-year terms for the presidency, benefitting strongman Shavkat Mirziyoyev and harking back to the era of his despot predecessor and mentor Islam Karimov.

Mirziyoyev campaigned for and won re-election last year under a “New Uzbekistan” campaign slogan, but critics accuse Tashkent of backsliding on rights after introducing economic and social reforms.

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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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