How one architect is helping young people remember Beirut's complicated past

Simone Cecchetti/Corbis/Getty Images(BEIRUT) -- To enter the Beirut nightclub B018, one arrives on what appears to be a helicopter landing pad and descends a staircase to enter the underground music mecca.

The club is located on the spot where 20,000 Palestinian, Kurdish and South Lebanese refugees were massacred in 1976 during Lebanon’s civil war, which began in 1975 and continued for 15 years.

“How do you design a bar on a site like this in a country that is in denial of its own history?” said architect Bernard Khoury, who took on the project in 1998. For Khoury, the project was a must.

“If someone doesn’t want anything to do with it, they’re a coward,” he said.

This defiant attitude defines Lebanon’s best-known architect, whose imaginative structures are often unafraid to enter dialogue with the sites on which they are located, often referencing the country’s troubled past.

Take, for example, Centrale, a restaurant located in the city’s historical center. The recuperated ruin from the 1920s sits near the former demarcation line that separated East and West Beirut. Khoury chose to keep its crumbling facade visible through wire mesh as a reminder that this area had once been a no-man's land with decaying, decrepit buildings. Residential complex Plot 1282, with its jagged exterior, was built near the site of an abandoned military complex.

Today's Beirut is a vibrant metropolis with a reputation for its thriving nightlife and mouthwatering cuisine. To tourists visiting the hot spots, the scars of civil war, which ended as recently as 1990, are nearly invisible. Khoury's architecture is part of a city with one foot stuck in the past and another in the future, where once-opulent villas and unappealing apartment complexes intermingle with luxury high-rises by some of the world’s top architects, from Foster + Partners to Herzog & de Meuron. Although Khoury admires the work of his foreign colleagues, he sees their limitations and what he calls a “naive understanding” of a country with a complex history and social fabric.

ABC News spoke with Khoury on a rainy day in Beirut shortly before he gave a lecture to group of young Lebanese architects and designers who had gathered for a design biennial by Beirut-based NGO House of Today, which supports a small but thriving scene of Lebanese designers. Over a double vodka on the rocks, the combat boot-wearing architect explained one of his missions: to help the upcoming generation to remember their country’s past.

“In the so-called postwar period, something very dangerous happened: We completely bypassed the history of the young republic -- from the 1940s until the 1970s -- during which there was a project of building a modern nation and great efforts done on all levels -- in architecture, cinema and painting and industrial design,” said Khoury.

While some major projects have preserved the country's archeological history, such as the post-civil war redevelopment of the city center by private firm Solidere, the decades when Lebanon was in the process of becoming its own nation have been completely ignored, he said.

One of the architects of this forgotten period was Khoury’s father, Khalil. The son of a carpenter and nun, the elder Khoury was a staunch communist who once delivered medical supplies to Fidel Castro. He devoted the early part of his architectural career to social projects, including working on refugee housing. His son returned to a different Beirut after the war, one in which the state had collapsed and the free market reigned supreme.

Coming home after studying architecture at Harvard, Khoury was disappointed to see that his hometown did not rise from the ashes in the way he and his peers hoped it would.

“We thought we were going to rebuild the nation and write our history like you would do in any postwar period, but none of that really happened. We didn’t rebuild our institutions, the nation state was never restored, and the private sector basically took over,” Khoury said.

But he embraced this, initially gaining fame for short-term commercial projects in the entertainment industry, such as B018.

“Beirut in this condition gave me a relationship with temporality, which I think is more contemporary from my colleagues in the West who still build structures which are conceived to survive eternity, like the pyramids,” he said.

Khoury honed his style through experimenting on projects that would be torn down and redeveloped.

“In the West, I still want to think that there is still a margin of territory where the state is there to promote certain projects by running competitions for libraries and museums -- that doesn’t exist here,” he noted. “If you want to produce meaning, and I think architecture is a political act, you have to find other ways to become politically relevant.”

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American-born, Iranian journalist held as ‘material witness,’ court documents show

Viktorcvetkovic/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government on Friday acknowledged for the first time that it secretly arrested an Iranian journalist earlier this week, demanding she testify to a federal grand jury as part of a federal probe that still remains a mystery.

The acknowledgement came in a federal judge's order stating that American-born Melanie Franklin, also known as Marzieh Hashemi, was taken into custody on a material witness warrant issued in Washington.

The order, unsealed Friday in federal court in Washington, D.C., confirms that Franklin has not been accused of any crime and has made two court appearances before a federal judge.

Franklin, the order states, is expected to be released immediately following the completion of her testimony before a federal grand jury.

Iranian state media had reported that the American-born Iranian journalist had been arrested in St. Louis on Sunday and transferred to Washington.

Iranian government officials have called for her release.

"The custody of Iran's reporter in the U.S. is highly political and she should be released immediately," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state media, the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The order by Chief Judge Beryl Howell is the first acknowledgement by the U.S. government that she had been arrested and not charged.

Federal law permits the government to detain witnesses under court order in certain circumstances.

It is highly unusual to hold someone as a material witness and it remains unclear what the grand jury is investigating.

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'Sex trainer' who claimed to have information on Trump and Russia arrested in Moscow

sihuo0860371/iStock(MOSCOW) --  An Instagram model and self-described “sex trainer” from Belarus, who last year drew international attention with unsubstantiated claims to have recordings relevant to the Russian election interference investigation, has been arrested at a Moscow airport on prostitution charges after she was deported from Thailand.

Anastasia Vashukevich, better known by her online persona Nastya Rybka, was drawn into the Trump-Russia saga in 2018 after Instagram videos surfaced of her aboard a yacht with Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch with long-standing business ties to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. After Vashukevich was arrested in Thailand last year on work permit violations, she claimed to have recordings relating to Russia and the 2016 election, and promised to hand information over to the FBI if the agency would guarantee her safety.

No evidence ever emerged to support her claims, but the case has attracted significant media attention in Russia, mostly because of its salacious details and the high-profile characters involved.

On Thursday, Vashukevich and her collaborator, a self-described sex guru known as Alex Lesli, were detained with two others at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport when they landed after returning from Thailand. A court in that country convicted, then released them and seven others after they pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges.

A video of Vashukevich's detention in Moscow was published on Friday by Ren-TV, a pro-Kremlin channel with ties to the security services, that showed several men trying to force Vashukevich into a wheel chair near passport control and then eventually taking her away, escorted by a uniformed police officer.

Russian police said in a statement that Vashukevich and Lesli, whose real name is an Alexander Kirillov, were now being detained on charges of enticement to prostitution. No charges had been previously announced and their arrest had not been expected and large crowd of journalists waiting for them at the airport’s arrivals area were surprised when they didn’t appear.

Vashukevich first attracted international attention when Russia’s most prominent opposition activist, Alexey Navalny, her videos and photos of her with Deripaska in an investigation alleging Kremlin corruption in February 2018.

The videos show Deripaska aboard a yacht off the coast of Norway with a top Kremlin official in August 2016, filmed by Vashukevich, who claimed in a book she wrote around the trip that she had been flown there with several other women and had sex with Deripaska.

Navalny asserted the video was proof that Deripaska had effectively bribed the official, Sergey Prikhodko, then a Russian deputy prime minister, by flying him to the yacht. Deripaska, a metals magnate who is one of Russia’s richest men, responded by suing Navalny and Vashukevich, claiming they had illegally published personal photos. Prikhodko told the Russian independent newspaper, RBC that “such stuff should be answered man-to-man, but we will leave in within the bounds of the legal field."

In Russia, attention has focused mostly on the corruption allegations, but what attracted global notice was Navalny’s speculation— made without evidence— that Deripaska and Prikhodko could have been discussing information provided by Paul Manafort about the 2016 elections. Emails first reported by The Washington Post, revealed that Manafort had allegedly offered “private briefings” to Deripaska on the U.S. election while he was overseeing Trump’s campaign that summer.

Manafort, who has been convicted on multiple charges of fraud and money laundering as well as “conspiracy against the United States” as part of the Special Counsel investigation, denied at the time that any briefing ever took place.

Deripaska sued Navalny and Vashukevich over the video alleging invasion of privacy, and a Russian court ordered them to pay roughly $8,000 each for posting information relating to his private life on the internet without his consent. After Deripaska won a court ruling, Russia’s state media watchdog at one point threatened to block YouTube and Instagram if the two sites did not remove the videos.

Vashukevich later seized on the possible link between her videos of Deripaska and Prikhodko and the U.S. election after she and Kirillov were arrested in Thailand three weeks later while they were conducting what they described as a "sex training” seminar there. She claimed publicly to have hours more recordings that would reveal more about the U.S. election and Russia, and promised to provide the FBI with information if they would guarantee her refuge in the U.S.

As the months passed though, she never revealed any new details and eventually told journalists that if she did have any materials, she would only give them to Deripaska. Many journalists concluded that she was likely hitching herself to the Russia investigation in the hope of escaping her legal predicament.

Kirillov’s partner, Kristina Sheremetyeva, on Thursday told ABC News that FBI agents had visited Vashukevich in Thai prison and asked about the materials, but she had refused to hand anything over. In March, CNN cited a Thai official who said that FBI agents had tried but failed to meet with her.

This week, a Thai court released Vashukevich and her seven co-defendants after they pleaded guilty to soliciting to provide sexual services. They were deported to Moscow, from where Vashukevich had hoped to fly on to her native Minsk.

Kristina Sheremetyeva said Thursday that Russia’s charges against Vashukevich and Kirillov were unfounded, and said she had feared possible trouble when they arrived in Moscow, without elaborating further.

Vashukevich and Kirillov had built a following as self-styled sex experts, holding seminars in Russia and abroad on seduction and promoting themselves as guides to sexual liberation on social media. Vashukevich's book chronicling her alleged affair with Deripaska is framed as a manual for how to seduce an oligarch. In it, she claims her mentor, Kirillov, had advised her to make recordings when she was with Deripaska.

Vashukevich and Kirillov had been holding one of their seminars when they were arrested in the Thai resort of Pattaya. Initially they were charged with visa infractions, but the charges went through several changes, growing more severe, eventually becoming prostitution-related.

Kirillov’s wife, Sheremetyeva denied that he and Vashukevich’s had ever had anything in common with prostitution and that their seminars never involved participants having sexual intercourse in them.

The pair had continued to insist that the shifting charges showed powerful foreign forces were pressuring the Thai police into prosecuting them.]. Some of Vashukevich’s released co-defendants told reporters at the airport they considered the Thai charges against them to have been trumped up.

In an August interview with The New York Times, Vashukevich seemed to suggest she wanted to reconcile with Deripaska, promising she would only handover the alleged recordings to him at a personal meeting.

At the Moscow airport on Thursday, Kristina Sheremetyeva said she didn’t think Vashukevich had any recordings that she had once hinted to have.

“Most likely, those files that interest them so much -- I don’t know what files they would have to be. There aren’t any such files,” Sheremetyeva told ABC News. “Nastya wrote a book about seducing men, she didn’t write there about corruption, or that she heard about some kind of secrets which could, I don’t know, impact the international community.”

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At age of 82, Silvio Berlusconi announces his return to Italian politics, plans to run in European elections

lucagavagna/iStock(ROME) -- Four-time prime minister and octogenarian Silvio Berlusconi, announced his comeback — once again — to Italian politics Thursday.

Speaking at a rally in Sardinia, he said his aim "at the beautiful age that I have" was to run in the upcoming European elections in May to stop the present upsurge of populist governments winning seats in Europe.

He will run as a candidate for his center-right Forza Italia party, which, since its heyday in the 90s, has lost massive amounts of votes in the polls.

He accused Europe of lacking "deep thinking about the world. ... With my knowledge, my experience and my ability to convince people, I can play an important role and make European citizens understand that we risk moving away from Western values."

He took a similar line to when he entered politics in 1994, saying he was doing it to stop "the communists." This time, he said he's entering politics to stop the present Italian government from gaining more votes in the European Parliament — mainly in an attempt to slow down the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, a political party that he has repeatedly called "dangerous," "inexperienced" and "incompetent."

The Five Star Movement, however, shares government power with the right-wing, anti-migrant and Eurosceptic Northern League Party, which used to partner with Berlusconi in the government. He was careful not to upset the League as he still hopes to win his former allies — and voters — back to the center-right fold and benefit from the League’s rising popularity. The League continues to rise and lead in the polls, outstripping Five Star with more than an estimated 30 percent of the votes.

"The united #RightCenter is a winner: with its values and its ideals, it is the future of Italy, Europe and the world," Berlusconi wrote on Twitter on Friday.

In a letter to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Friday, Berlusconi expressed his desire to return to Catholic and liberal politics harking back to the Italian political scene after World War II.

The leader of the League party — Matteo Salvini — is focusing on the EU elections as a way to strengthen his power within the government and further transform his one-time northern separatist party into a fully fledged national right-wing party with strong ties across Europe and beyond.

Berlusconi and his center-right Forza Italia party dominated Italian politics for close to two decades starting in 1994 when he moved into politics after a highly successful career owning media and real estate.

Since stepping down as prime minister in 2011 and multiple court cases — including a conviction of tax fraud in 2013, which expelled him from parliament and banned him from public office — he has continued to work behind the scenes in Italian politics. His ban was overturned by an Italian court last year and he quickly moved back into the political scene.

Reaction to the news that Berlusconi was running in the European elections were mixed, with some TV commentators on Thursday complimenting him on his "courage" and others dismissing it as delusional move. However, political analysts believe that his running in EU elections could still mean a 5 percent increase of votes for his waning Forza Italia party, which could give the wily politician a political bartering tool going forward.

A pollster, Nicolo Piepoli, quoted in Corriere della Sera on Thursday said "his return to politics helps maintain [his party’s] votes not win but you must not forget that there are still a million citizens who would risk their lives for him today."

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US soldier dies from wounds suffered in Afghanistan combat

KeithBinns/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. Army Ranger has died from wounds suffered in an attack in Afghanistan last week, marking the first U.S. military death in Afghanistan this year.

Sgt. Cameron A. Meddock, 26, of Spearman, Texas, died Thursday at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, as a result of injuries sustained from small arms fire during combat on Jan. 13, 2019, in Jawand District, Badghis Province, Afghanistan.

Meddock was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Meddock was on his second deployment to Afghanistan, he had enlisted in the Army in November 2014

Meddock's death marks the first U.S. military fatality in Afghanistan this year. There are currently about 14,000 U.S. military forces in Afghanistan mostly advising and assisting the Afghan military in its fight against the Taliban and an ISIS affiliate.

However, some units, like the Army's elite 75th Ranger Battalion, are involved in counter-terrorism operations.

“Sergeant Cameron Meddock is one of America’s precious Sons. The entire Nation should strive to emulate the Warrior, Patriot and Husband that Cameron was. The 75th Ranger Regiment will forever honor Sergeant Cameron Meddock and his family will forever be a member of our Ranger family,” said Col. Brandon Tegtmeier, commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Meddock enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 2014. He completed One Station Unit Training as an infantryman, the Basic Airborne Course and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 1, Fort Benning, Georgia.

Meddock was assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment where he served as a machine gunner, automatic rifleman, gun team leader and most recently as a fire team leader.

His awards included the Purple Heart, Joint-Service Commendation for Combat, Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, and NATO Medal.

His decorations included the Ranger Tab, Parachutists Badge, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badge for a Rifle.

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Three Americans killed in bomb blast in northern Syria identified

omersukrugoksu/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon has identified three of the four Americans killed in a bomb blast in Syria on Wednesday, the deadliest day for American forces in Syria since they entered the country in 2015. Three other Americans were injured in the attack.

The two service members and a Defense Department civilian employee were identified as Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of upstate New York and Scott A. Wirtz of St. Louis, Missouri.

Farmer was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Kent was assigned to Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66, based at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.

Wirtz was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency as an operations support specialist.

The contractor killed in the bomb blast was not identified by the Pentagon.

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that ISIS was responsible for the attack, which took place at a restaurant in the northern city of Manbij, two U.S. officials told ABC News.

The U.S. team belonged to a military intelligence unit, one of those officials said, and was conducting a “local engagement” at the time of the incident, according to the U.S.-led coalition.

The suicide bomber detonated the explosive device in the doorway to the restaurant -- which has been visited in the past by U.S. military personnel, but not necessarily this team, the official said.

In December, President Donald Trump made the surprise decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring victory over ISIS. But since then, there has been growing confusion over the withdrawal plans, as the administration shifted from a 30-day timeline to one that is now "conditions-based" to include the enduring defeat of ISIS, protection for the Syrian Kurds, and assurance that Iran can't increase its influence in the region.

During a hearing on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a vocal critic of Trump's decision to withdraw American troops, said he believed he had visited the same restaurant where the Americans were killed during a visit to Manbij last July, adding he hoped the president would reexamine U.S. policy in Syria.

"The only reason the Kurds and the Arabs and the Christians were in that restaurant is cause we gave them the space to be in that restaurant," Graham said. "Think what you want to about 'those people' over there -- they have had enough of killing. They would love to have the opportunity that we have to fix their problems without the force of violence. So I would hope the president would look long and hard of where he is headed in Syria."

Manbij has proven vitally strategic for U.S. forces who have had a highly visible presence there for nearly two years, conducting patrols in the city to act as a buffer between Turkey and the coalition’s Kurdish partners -- a group that's been critical to the fight against ISIS but which Ankara classifies as terrorists.

Four other American service members have been killed in Syria since the U.S. entered the country under the Obama administration in October 2015. Those Americans were: Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Cooper Dayton, Air Force Staff Sgt. Leo Austin Bieren, Army Spc. Etienne Jules Murphy, and Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Jay Dunbar.

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Meet the man at the center of the Brexit drama

Alastair Grant - WPA Pool /Getty Images(LONDON) -- If you've been watching the unfolding Brexit drama closely, you may be wondering who's the one man at the center of it all, whose eccentric style and witty put-downs you can't help but notice.

That man is John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, the British Parliament where lawmakers have been debating Brexit measures. Although he's an elected Member of Parliament, Bercow's role as speaker means he's a neutral figure, tasked with presiding over debates and deciding which MPs will have a chance to speak.

Bercow is an experienced operator, having served as speaker since 2009, but in the increasingly raucous House of Commons maintaining "order" is no small task.

But his time as speaker has not been without controversy, and this year his conduct has been put under the spotlight.

A parliamentary report into bullying at Westminster claimed Bercow had "tolerated and covered up" abusive behavior by MPs towards staff, which may lead to his departure from the role this summer, according to the BBC.

In December, a fight erupted when the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, faced accusations of misogyny when he allegedly muttered "stupid woman" toward Theresa May under his breath. Conservative MP Vicky Ford claimed that Bercow, who's tasked with resolving such disputes in the House of Commons, had himself used the phrase, according to the Evening Standard.

Bercow also could become the first speaker to be denied peerage, a lifetime membership of the House of Lords, in 230 years, as the government seeks to punish him over alleged "bias" in the Brexit debates, The Times revealed on Jan. 18.

He may be controversial, but viewers can still look forward to his eccentric gesticulations for the time being, as Britain takes the next step on its long and winding journey out of the European Union.

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Prince Philip uninjured in 'road traffic accident': Buckingham Palace

Matt Dunham - WPA Pool / Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was "involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle" on Thursday afternoon, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said.

Norfolk Police were called to the scene near the queen's Sandringham Estate, the Norfolk retreat where she and her husband typically spend winter, around 3 p.m. after a Land Rover and a Kia were involved in a collision, the department said in a statement.

Prince Philip, 97, was driving the Land Rover and has an up-to-date driver's license, Buckingham Palace confirmed. The queen's husband was uninjured in the accident, the palace said.

"He'll be pretty shaken up," ABC News royal commentator Alastair Bruce said of the Duke of Edinburgh. "He's very practical, he always has been. He's physically aware of his abilities and he will be driving because he knows what he's doing and he knows those roads very well."

The Norfolk County Council will hold a committee meeting Friday morning to discuss safety issues on the road where the crash took place. However, a council spokesperson told ABC News that the meeting was already due to be held and is not in response to the accident.

The female driver of the Kia suffered cuts, and a female passenger sustained an injury to her arm, police said. They both were treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn and discharged.

A witness told the BBC that the SUV had overturned on its driver's side and that broken glass was scattered all over the road.

Both drivers took breathalyzer tests after the accident, which is standard policy, and passed, authorities said. The road where the accident occurred remained open, and the vehicles were recovered a short time later, police said.

Prince Philip has made few public appearances since retiring from public life in August 2017.

He did not attend the Christmas Day church service last month, and he missed a pre-Easter church service in March due to hip problems. He did, however, attend his grandson Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle in May.

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Explosion at the University of Lyon in France leaves 3 students injured

LeoPatrizi/iStock(LONDON) -- A science building under construction at the University of Lyon in France caught on fire after three gas cylinders on the roof of the building exploded.

Three students were slightly injured, French officials told ABC News.

The incident is not being treated as terrorism, French officials have confirmed. The school facilities have been evacuated and firefighters are at the scene.

Authorities believe an accident set off the explosion as the building was undergoing construction work. Video of the incident shows the building engulfed in flames before the explosion is heard.

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Germany evacuates citizens due to avalanche risk as death toll rises

DieterMeyrl/iStock(BERLIN) -- Areas in southern Germany and Austria have been battling heavy snows in the past weeks in a phenomenon so extreme, German media have dubbed it “Schneechaos”, or “snow chaos” in English.

Now, Bavarian residents are being asked to leave their homes to avoid more possible disasters.

With increased snowfall over the past weeks, the risk of avalanches is growing by the day.

On Wednesday, roughly 260 citizens in the village of Raiten in the region of Traunstein near the Austrian border were forced to evacuate their homes out of concern for possible impending avalanches.

In a video statement on Facebook, Traunstein District Administrator Siegfried Welch said the option to evacuate had "the highest priority."

"We don’t like doing so, but we decided to vacate," he explained.

On Wednesday, the Sudelbelt ski resort in Bavaria was hit by an avalanche and forced to close until trees and other debris could be moved, causing chairlifts to come to a standstill. Fortunately, no one was injured.

In Brechtesgaden, a town in the Bavarian alps near the Austrian border, 1,500 German Armed Forces soldiers were deployed to clear roofs of snow and deliver supplies to citizens cut off from the outside world.

The heavy snows and weather-related incidents have resulted in the deaths of more than two dozen people, including a 9-year-old boy who was killed by a falling tree in the town of Aying near Munich.

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