China, Serbia conduct first joint training drill

Chinese special police took part in their first joint training drills in Europe on Thursday, joining Serbia’s elite anti-terrorist unit and local police in an exercise at a Chinese-owned steel mill outside Belgrade.

Machine-gun fire and stun grenade blasts shook the plant in Smederevo, some 37 miles east of the Serbian capital, as police from the two countries used three helicopters and 20 armored vehicles in a staged raid to rescue hostages.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said that he planned more cooperation with Chinese law enforcement agencies and that Serbia was “learning from a bigger and stronger” country.

“China is not only our strategic partner, but also . . . a friendly and a brotherly country,” he told reporters.

Some 180 special police officers from China’s Henan province participated in the exercise at the mill, which was bought by China’s Hesteel in 2016 and employs a number of Chinese citizens.

China passed a law in 2015 allowing its forces to venture overseas on counterterrorism operations, and it has been seeking to extend its capacity to carry out remote missions in case it ever needs to rescue Chinese citizens.

But Beijing’s poor human rights record, especially in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the government says it faces a threat from Islamist extremists, means Western countries have been reluctant to help.

That has left China relying largely on countries with which it already cooperates on security, such as Russia and Pakistan.

Keen to boost ties with European nations, China deployed military medics to practice with colleagues from Germany for the first time in July.

Serbia’s military and police forces hold regular drills with Russia and NATO member countries as the government tries to balance its goals of joining the European Union and maintaining ties with traditional allies.

— Reuters


Earthquake toll rises as bodies are removed

Search teams pulled the bodies of a mother, her 2-year-old twins and 7-year-old son from the rubble of a house in the western Albanian town of Durres on Thursday, as the death toll from the country’s worst earthquake climbed to 46.

European and Albanian search teams also pulled a dead body from the rubble of a hotel along Durres’s beach on the Adriatic Sea as they continued looking for survivors of Tuesday’s 6.4-magnitude temblor.

There have been more than 500 aftershocks since then, some with a magnitude of more than 5.0, rocking buildings and terrifying residents.

Albania, which marked the 107th anniversary of its independence on Thursday, has not experienced a deadly earthquake since a 1979 temblor killed 40 people, and the country is poorly prepared for such disasters. Italy, Greece, Romania and others have sent search teams to look for survivors.

Under the collapsed four-story house of Berti Lala, 40, an Italian team found the bodies of his wife, twins and one older son, crushed under a collapsed ceiling as they huddled together.

Some 45 people have been found alive, while a handful of the 650 injured are in serious condition.

— Reuters


Rebels return in swap with Saudi Arabia

More than 100 Houthi rebel prisoners released by the Saudi-led coalition returned to Yemen on Thursday, a move toward a long-anticipated prisoner swap between the warring parties.

Welcoming 128 freed Yemenis at the airport in the capital, Sanaa, Houthi leader Muhammad al-Bukhaiti hailed their arrival as “a first practical step by the Saudis that builds trust.” Dozens more released in Saudi Arabia earlier this week are expected to follow.

Relatives and Houthi officials gathered around the procession of prisoners, kissing their hands.

Their return was a sign that the Saudi coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthis were advancing a U.N.-brokered deal aimed at ending the war in the Arab world’s poorest country.

In September, Houthis freed more than 200 captives who had been held since the rebels seized Sanaa, along with much of northern Yemen, in 2014.

The Saudi-led coalition launched its campaign in 2015 to drive out the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi, now exiled in Saudi Arabia. The war has left dead more than 100,000 people, many of them civilians, and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

— Associated Press

Britain sees lowest migration in nearly six years: Net migration to Britain fell to its lowest level in nearly six years during the year to June, driven by a pre-Brexit drop in the arrival of European Union citizens moving for work, official data showed on Thursday. The Office for National Statistics said 212,000 more people moved to Britain than left in the year to June, the lowest total since the year to September 2013.

Women, girls killed in explosions in Afghanistan: Afghan officials said Thursday that separate explosions in the country's north killed at least 16 people, almost all of them women and girls. A roadside bomb struck a civilian vehicle going to a wedding in northeastern Kunduz province Wednesday evening, killing at least 15 people, including six women, six girls and two infants, as well as the male driver, according to Nasrat Rahimi, an Interior Ministry spokesman. Hours later, a gunfight and explosion at a security checkpoint killed at least one police officer, said Mohammad Nooragha Faizi, a police spokesman in northern Sar-e Pol province.

— From news services