News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week April 21st to April 27th 2005.
ENGLISH CHURCH RANSACKED
Burglary at St George’s at Málaga’s English Cemetery shocks residents
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE
THIEVES BROKE INTO ST GEORGE’S CHURCH AT MÁLAGA’S ENGLISH CEMETERY AT THE WEEKEND, DAMAGING PARTS OF THE BUILDING AND MAKING OFF WITH SEVERAL ITEMS, INCLUDING THE CHURCH’S THREE-PIECE MARBLE BAPTISM FONT.
The exact time of the break-in is not known, but it occurred sometime between the end of services on Sunday and the arrival of church staff early Monday morning, said Lindsay Wilkin, secretary of the chaplaincy council. He surmised that the theft probably occurred sometime during the night.
The thieves tore the security grille from one of the church’s windows and then ripped out the entire window frame to enter the building, Mr Wilkin told Costa del Sol News. That gave them access to the sacristy, which is closed off from the interior of the church by a no-longer-used door which the thieves broke down to gain entry into the main body of the church. The organ appears to be undamaged although the church was a dust-filled mess when staff arrived Monday morning.
MARBLE BAPTISM FONT TAKEN
When Mr Wilkin spoke to CDSN, items that had been identified as missing included a silver chalice and box, some coins from the church’s flower-fund collection bottle, which was smashed, and bottles of wine from the church’s vestry, to which the thieves gained access by breaking down a second door. But the largest item was the marble baptism font, which the thieves apparently transported to the upper part of the cemetery using a wheelbarrow from the gardener’s equipment area, and then hoisted over the cemetery wall. “There must have been a team of them,” said Mr Wilkin. “By myself I can barely pick up just the bowl portion of the font and would not be able to lift it over my head.”
It is not known whether the baptism font was specifically targeted in the break-in or was just taken on a whim by the thieves. Mr Wilkin said it does not have any particular historical value that he is aware of, ‘but of course has sentimental value’ to the members of the church.
ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS NOT AFFECTED
Church sources have confirmed that the celebrations organised for this weekend to mark the 175th anniversary of the English Cemetery will go ahead as planned and that everything will be ready in spite of the burglary.
The English Cemetery has in the past been a target of break-ins, sometimes just by young people using it as a place for late-night drinking and other times suffering vandalism, but to Mr Wilkin’s knowledge this is the first time the church itself has been broken into.
Madrid bombing terrorist arrested in Algeciras
BY DAVID EADE
A MOROCCAN CITIZEN, SOUFIANE RAIFAK, WHO IS ALLEGED TO HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE BOMB OUTRAGE IN MADRID ON MARCH 11 OF LAST YEAR HAS BEEN DETAINED BY THE NATIONAL POLICE IN ALGECIRAS.
He was immediately taken to the Spanish capital to appear before Juan del Olmo, the judge investigating the bombings, who ordered his unconditional imprisonment.
When arrested Raifak was already in detention. He had earlier been held in Valdepeñas in Ciudad Real after being found not to have the correct documentation at a routine police checkpoint. He was transferred to the foreigners’ detention centre in Algeciras to await deportation to his native country.
It was while he was in detention in Algeciras, where Raifak was being held with many other Moroccans facing deportation, that officials discovered that he was a possible member of the Islamic fundamentalist groups believed to be behind the Madrid bombings.
The Directorate General of Police investigating the bombings at Atocha station in which 191 people lost their lives found that Raifak was linked to Jamal Ahmidan (El Chino). Ahmidan was one of three terrorists implicated in the bombings who committed suicide in an apartment in the Madrid area of Leganés during a police siege.
Initially police believed that Raifak was a member of the logistics group that purchased the explosives used for the bombs. However since his arrest he has also been accused of trafficking in weapons.
Raifak’s link with Algeciras is said to be just circumstantial in that he was being held in detention there. There is no evidence at this stage to believe he operated out of the port city that is the most accessible point in Spain from North Morocco. Others linked with the Madrid bombings had businesses in Algeciras and one of the accused, Abdennabi Kounjaa, lived in a flat in the port town for five months between September 2003 and February 2004.
Benalmádena’s new health centre delay
By Oliver McIntyre
The construction of Benalmádena’s new Torrequebrada health centre is essentially complete, with just minor finish work left to perform. But because of a legal challenge against the project by the Junta de Andalucía’s Public Works delegation in Málaga, it could be as much as a year before the centre can open its doors, according to Mayor Enrique Bolín. That is how long the regional court could take to resolve the issue, he said.
The challenge by Public Works stems from the deal the Town Hall made with the owners of the property where the health centre was built, who were given a separate municipal property in exchange for the health centre site. Public Works charges that as part of the deal, the Town Hall illegally increased by 194 per cent the allowable construction on the land that was traded to the property owner, without the approval of the Junta’s provincial Town Planning Commission.
Mayor Bolín insists that the land swap and reclassification were legal and within the Town Hall’s planning jurisdiction. Last week he accused Public Works of delaying the opening of the much-needed health centre, which the Town Hall has spent 2.3 million euros to build. Speaking on the future outcome of the court case, he said: “I wonder if they will demolish the health centre if the court rules in Public Works’ favour. And, if we win, I’d like to know who is going to repair the damage done to the population of Benalmádena, which will have to suffer another year of the healthcare deficiencies this centre is intended to address.”
Nerja domestic violence attack
By Dave Jamieson
A German resident of Nerja has been arrested for an alleged attack on his pregnant wife. After the man fled from the family home at Los Almachares on the border with Frigiliana, the woman and the man’s mother called local police for help late on Saturday night, claiming that he had assaulted both them, and warning that he may be armed. They provided a photograph to help officers identify the husband before being taken to hospital in Vélez-Málaga where they were admitted for tests and observation.
The pregnant woman is understood to have suffered injuries to an ear and her eyes, although neither woman is believed to have been seriously hurt. On Sunday morning the alleged attacker was detained by police and found to have a loaded nine millimetre pistol in his possession, along with extra cartridges, 150 grams of hashish resin and almost 20,000 euros in cash. He has been charged with violence against his family members and possessing an illegal firearm and drugs.
Fatal ambulance wait prompts changes
New tracking procedure will identify delays in response time
By Dave Jamieson
THE DEATH OF A 53-YEAR-OLD MÁLAGA MAN WHO LAST WEEK WAITED MORE THAN THREE HOURS FOR AN AMBULANCE HAS PROMPTED A REVIEW BY THE JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA, WHICH PROMISES PROCEDURAL CHANGES TO IMPROVE AMBULANCE RESPONSE TIMES.
The victim, who first telephoned the 061 emergency line at 20.35, was found dead in his home in Calle Peña when firemen broke in at 01.20. The man, who lived alone and suffered from fainting turns, made two additional calls to 061 for help, the last at 23.50, before an ambulance finally arrived at 00.15. When medics got no reply at the front door, the police were advised.
An investigation was immediately opened into the circumstances of the incidents, and recordings of the 061 calls were analysed to discover what went wrong. The first call made by the dead man was passed to the ambulance service within four minutes, but with an operator’s comment that it did not appear to be ‘vital’, according to reports.
On Friday, the head of the Junta’s Health Department, María José Montero, announced changes in the way that emergency calls would be handled. Under the new procedure, operators will continue to attempt to determine the patient’s requirements – for example, whether an ambulance from the Servicio Especial de Urgencias (SEU) is required immediately or whether a doctor from the nearest health centre should be alerted – so that responses can be better prioritised and resources better managed. The change comes in a procedure for tracking the progress of the response to each patient so that any delay or error can be spotted.
RESOURCES STRETCHED THIN
Meanwhile, new figures show that demands on the 061 service have increased nearly tenfold since it began in December 1992. In the city of Málaga, there are two 24-hour mobile units, at Hospital Civil and Puerta Blanca health centre, plus another at Hospital Clínco which operates from 10.00 to 22.00. In addition, there are units at Vélez-Málaga, Fuengirola and San Pedro, but critics have complained that the level of cover is now inadequate.
Nerja caves appointment creates political friction
BY DAVE JAMIESON
THE MANAGER OF NERJA CAVES FOUNDATION HAS BEEN DISMISSED FROM HIS POST IN A MOVE WHICH HAS RESULTED IN MORE POLITICAL FRICTION BETWEEN THE TOWN AND THE REGIONAL GOVERNMENT.
The organisation’s president has appointed the vice-president of the PSOE in Nerja, the opposition socialist party at the Town Hall, as his replacement.
In a move which has not improved relations between Nerja and the Junta de Andalucía, Hilario López Luna, himself a government sub-delegate in Málaga, gave the job to Ángel Ramírez Doña at a meeting early last week, but appears to have failed to advise Nerja’s Mayor, who is also the Foundation’s vice-president. José Alberto Armijo was informed of the dismissal of Sr Díaz two days later, but said that he learned the name of the new office holder by reading a newspaper. Sr Armijo criticised the attitude of Sr Luna for not advising him of the identity of the new manager at a promised meeting, designed to promote accord between them. The Mayor added that, while the appointment is made by the Foundation’s president, the day to day work of the appointee would be with himself, so it would be “reasonable” to agree on the choice of the successful candidate.
Commenting that the post was “more technical than political”, he also questioned the appointment of a senior member of the local PSOE group.
The appointment is reported to have been received with surprise by the Nerja socialists, who had been pressing for a local person to hold the post. Local business leaders warned, however, of the instability which resulted from changing managers every time the national government changes. Mayor Armijo said the Nerja Caves “cannot and should not be a political game of fancy” and confirmed his belief that the naming of Sr Ramírez as the new manager was part of a “perfectly orchestrated campaign by the socialist party at a provincial level”.
NEW MANAGER, NEW IDEAS?
Since his appointment in 1999, the outgoing manager Luis Díaz has been one of the moving forces behind the development of a museum for Nerja’s history, now under construction in the town centre. He also opened the interpretation centre and oversaw substantial improvements in the grounds around the entrance to the caves complex. Sr Díaz has been noted for recognising the scientific importance of the attraction, which is beaten only by Madrid’s Prado and Granada’s Alhambra in visitor numbers, and has been active in promoting its maintenance and conservation.
The new manager comes with the background of a career with Repsol, where he has been director general of the international gas division, executive president of Repsol Peru and a director of Repsol Portugal. He is vice president and spokesman for the PSOE party in Nerja of which he has been a member for 15 years.
EU acts against Fuengirola rubbish dump
By David Eade
The controlled rubbish dump at Torreblanca in the municipality of Fuengirola is again in the news. Over a year ago the regional government opened a legal case against the Town Hall because of the poor sealing of the now redundant site. Now the European Union is also taking court action.
The European Commission has brought a case before the EU court of justice naming three locations in Spain being Torreblanca as well as Santalla del Bierzo in León and Cana Putxa-Sa Roca in Ibiza for not totalling closing their municipal waste sites.
The EU court in Luxembourg took action in June 2003 against five Spanish dumps that were deemed to contravene the European directives on waste control and ordered their closure. Now the EU executive has investigated the three latest Spanish sites to be named as it taking the same action.
It is understood that Fuengirola does not have the licence showing that the dump has been sealed and closed to the standards required to prevent a risk to human health and the environment. Fuengirola Town Hall has rejected the accusations of the EU. The Mayor, Esperanza Oña, stated that the site was no longer in use and denied that the municipality was dumping any type of waste there.
The councillor for cleaning, Ana Mata, stated that it was Málaga Province that was responsible for sealing the dump and said there was no problem with the sealing. However the provincial deputy for the environment, Antonio Blanco, clarified matters by saying that whilst the dump had been sealed with provincial funds it was the Town Hall’s responsibility to maintain the site.
New golf developments under scrutiny
By David Eade
THE REGIONAL GOVERNMENT IS ATTEMPTING TO UNITE ALL THE CRITERIA WITHIN ANDALUCÍA FOR GRANTING LICENCES FOR NEW GOLF COURSES.
This is the philosophy behind an initiative being carried out by the department of public works and transport under the direction of the economist Vicente Granados.
In the coming days the provincial commissions of town planning of the department will begin to receive these criteria so that they can start to apply them to the projects already under consideration.
The regional government wants to avoid the masking of urban developments in these sporting locations. Sr. Granados stated: "The golf courses are golf courses and the housing developments are housing developments" adding that it was important that the philosophy behind the courses was not undermined.
Sr. Granados explained: "The regional government is in favour of creating golf courses that comply with the requisites of quality established by the Golf Federation of Spain." He added that amongst the requirements were quality courses that attract both players and international competitions.
TWO HUNDRED PROJECTS
However he stated his concerns after meeting with the Málaga delegate of the ministry of public work and transport. He said that there are 200 projects for new golf courses in Andalucía but added: "of that total 90 per cent are not only golf courses but housing developments as well."
Low rainfall threatens flamingos
By Oliver McIntyre
ONLY AN UNLIKELY MAJOR LATE-SEASON DOWNPOUR COULD SAVE THIS YEAR'S FLAMINGO MATING SEASON AT THE FUENTE DE PIEDRA LAGOON, SAY OFFICIALS.
The Junta de Andalucía's Environment delegate for Málaga, Ignacio Trillo, confirmed last week that insufficient precipitation this year has left the lagoon at too low a level to attract the migrating flamingos, which are currently bypassing Fuente de Piedra and seeking mating grounds in other parts of the country or in southern France. At last week's count there were only around a hundred of the large pink birds at the lagoon.
Fuente de Piedra's current water depth is less than 20 centimetres, with nearly half of the lagoon actually dry. By contrast, at this time last year the lagoon was up to 66.5 centimetres deep in some areas, thanks to a particularly heavy rain season, and there were over 32,900 flamingos at the site, well above the annual average. Assuming no major storms quickly restore the lagoon to more normal levels, 2005 could be the second year since 1989 - when the site was declared a nature preserve - that the flamingos fail to select it as a mating ground.
The failure of the flamingos to arrive would mean a cancellation of the annual bird-banding event in July, when some 500 ornithologists and volunteers are scheduled to put tracking bands on the hatchlings. Since 1986, when the banding project began, some 120,000 flamingos have been hatched at Fuente de Piedra, around 12,000 of which have been banded.
Estepona coastal land dispute
By David Eade
The long-running dispute over the area of land to the west of Estepona's recreational port known as the 'ganada al mar' has taken a new twist. The regional government's environment ministry has stated that the site is private land and not part of the public domain.
The decision will come as a blow to the local residents' action group, the association for the defence of the Playa del Cristo (Adepla). Adepla had asked the director general of coasts to take repossession and ownership of land as it wishes to prevent any development on the site.
The ministry rejected Adepla's case stating that the land was included in a ministerial order dating back to 1973 that ceded the zone to Marinas del Mediterráneo S.A. for the construction and management of the leisure port. On that basis the land is not protected, it can be urbanised and its natural characteristics do not need to be preserved.
The mayor of Estepona, Antonio Barrientos, has voiced his satisfaction at the ministry's decision as it has clarified the legal situation over ownership of the land. He added that he believed it meant that a final solution to the dispute over the land had been brought a stage closer.
The mayor had more bad news for members of Adepla that is largely made up of residents from the Marina Bay, Bermeja Beach, Punta Doncella and Belgravia Club residential complexes. He said that some of the perimeter walls of their developments were illegal as they stood on land belonging to the coastal authority.
Do you know the Costa's noisiest spot?
NEWS Staff Reporter
One complaint heard again and again from Costa residents is the problem of noise pollution - whether from nearby construction sites, nightlife areas, beach clubs or any of a multitude of noise-generating establishments or activities. Now victims of such noise pollution have a chance to both air their grievances and possibly win a free weekend at a luxury hotel. All they have to do is show that theirs is truly the province of Málaga's noisiest spot.
The contest is the brainchild of a group of environmental scientists who have created the Web site www.ruidos-no.com, aimed at addressing all aspects of noise pollution. (The Web site is Spanish-language only, and submissions to the contest should be in Spanish.) Anyone who believes they are being accosted by excessive noise can enter the contest by filling out a form on the Web site or sending an e-mail to [email protected] Required information includes the exact location, timeframe and source of the offensive cacophony, as well as the name and contact information of the entrant. The deadline for submissions is May 10.
The organisation will screen the entries and carry out onsite noise metering to identify the loudest spot. On May 12, a list of the top 10 noisiest places in the province of Málaga will be published on the Web site, and the winning entry will be awarded a free weekend for two at the Gran Meliá Don Pepe hotel in Marbella - presumably in a nice, quiet room.
New telecom regulations for Spain
Government passes legislation to protect consumers
By Oliver McIntyre
SPAIN'S COUNCIL OF MINISTERS LAST WEEK PASSED NEW REGULATORY LEGISLATION AIMED AT PROTECTING CONSUMERS OF TELEPHONE AND INTERNET SERVICES.
Under the new regulations, Internet and phone service providers must meet a series of requirements with regard to customer service in such areas as complaint management, consent for use of personal data and timely response to requests for service termination.
The new legislation requires that service-provider companies maintain a customer-service office with a physical address. The companies must provide a reference or tracking number for customer complaints (if by phone) or documentation of the complaint via paper or electronic correspondence. Phone numbers for customer service and complaints must be regular-rate lines, not extra-charge lines.
The legislation states that if the companies do not comply with the conditions and quality of service established in their contracts, customers have a right to compensation. One area where this is of particular interest is in high-speed Internet service, which many consumers have complained does not meet the connection-speed specifications promised by service providers.
Under the new telecommunications regulations, companies must obtain the express consent of new customers before including their personal data in phone or address directories. They must also obtain authorisation from customers to include their names on phone lists for unsolicited telemarketing.
When customers request cancellation of service, the companies must comply within 15 days. Whether or not the customer's service is actually shut off, the companies cannot bill for services provided after 15 days have passed following the termination request.
Tourist income falls as cost of living rises
By Dave Jamieson
Tourist income fell last year, but it's costing more to live here. The conclusions come from two new sets of statistics which give a clue to the state of the area's economic health.
New figures released last week indicate that the Costa del Sol lost almost 667 million euros of tourist income last year. Data from the Tourism Observatory shows that the coast welcomed 8.52 million visitors in 2004, generating an income of 3,500 million euros, while in 2003, 8.51 million tourists had spent a total of 4,141 million euros, a drop of more than 15 per cent.
While the number of Spanish nationals visiting the Costas rose from 2.8 to 3.2 million, this was countered by a fall in foreign tourists from 5.75 to 5.28 million. The Spanish displaced the British as the country accounting for most visitors at 38 per cent of the total, with U.K. travellers totalling 35.5 per cent. The total number of overnight stays in hotels fell by 4.07 per cent compared with 2003, while the number of hotels rose by 5.2 per cent. Last year, the average holiday-maker on the Costa del Sol stayed for 11.8 days and spent 34.56 euros daily. Most were aged between 40 and 60.
Signs for 2005 are encouraging with a total of 8.56 million tourists anticipated, which would be a rise of 4.7 per cent on last year. Figures from Málaga airport are already looking up, with almost 933,000 passengers passing through during March, 8.7 per cent up on last year, and partly accounted for by an early Easter. A campaign to promote Andalucía began on Monday in Málaga, and will continue through Almería, Jaén, Granada and Melilla until April 22.
However, while the region's tourist income has fallen, the cost of living in the province of Málaga rose three times more than the national figure in the first quarter of the year. The index of consumer prices (IPC) indicates that while average rise in prices across Spain was 0.2 per cent, Málaga showed the sharpest increase of the entire country with a rise of 0.7 per cent. In the 12 months from March 2004 to March 2005, the increase in Málaga is reported to be 3.8 per cent, placing it third behind Barcelona (4.1 per cent) and Gerona (3.9 per cent). Last month alone, Málaga was again increasing at a high rate of 1.2 per cent, the same figure being recorded in Granada. The regional figures for the 12 month period show a rise of 3.4 per cent across Andalucía, compared with the highest rate of 4 per cent in Cataluña. The increases in the first quarter have been attributed to a rise in the price of crude oil, the end of the winter sales and other season effects, such as tourist services.