News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week 24th May - 30rd May 2007
Election results show minor shifts, not sea changes
BY D. EADE, D. JAMIESON, O. MCINTYRE AND J. PARKES
WHILE SUNDAY’S COUNTRY-WIDE MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS RESULTED IN BIG CHANGES IN SOME INDIVIDUAL TOWNS, OVERALL THE POLITICAL SHIFT WAS FAIRLY SUBTLE.
The participation level in the election was 63.86 per cent, almost four percentage points below that of 2003. The conservative Partido Popular obtained 7,914,084 votes in all of Spain (35.60 per cent), 155,991 more than the Socialists (PSOE), although the PSOE gets 24,026 councillors while the PP gets only 23,347. Pro-ETA group ANV (whose lists were banned in several councils due to links with the terrorists’ political wing Batasuna) was the third most voted party in Basque region councils.The PP’s increase in votes came mostly in cities and towns were it was already the dominant party. The same was true in the regional-government elections held in some parts of the country Sunday, as each party retained control of the regions it already ruled, with the possible exception of Navarra and the Balearic Islands, where pacts between parties could result in the PP losing power.
The PP continues to dominate in provincial capitals, winning the greatest number of votes in 33 capital cities compared to the PSOE’s 15. But the PSOE stands to take power in 13 capitals previously ruled by the PP, either by having won outright or by being in a position to rule via coalition with other parties.
MÁLAGA AND GRANADA
In the greater Costa area, there were no power shifts in capital cities. Málaga remains in the firm control of the PP, as does Granada, where José Torre Hurtado became the city’s first mayor since 1987 to be re-elected for a second term.
Perhaps the most closely-watched race on the Costa was in Marbella, where the PP walked away victorious, taking charge of a town hall that for the last year has been operated by an interim management commission in the wake of the ‘Malaya’ corruption scandal and the dissolution of the council. Ángeles Muñoz will be the town’s new mayor, with a total of 16 council seats for her party. Only two other parties won seats – despite the mind-boggling 14 parties that ran for election – with the PSOE taking 10 and Izquierda Unida two.
One of the most surprising results came in Benalmádena, where the long-ruling GIB-Bolín party, headed Enrique Bolín, lost power to the PSOE, though the Socialists, with seven of the 25 council seats, will have to form a coalition government. Mayor Bolín, whose party won five seats, has announced that he will resign from the council altogether.
The biggest surprise in the Axarquía was the turnaround in Vélez-Málaga, where the PSOE previously held 10 of the 25 seats. The PP, under Francisco Delgado Bonillo, now holds 10 against the PSOE’s nine, making it the biggest single group on the council. However, a secure coalition with one of the minor parties will be necessary for an effective ruling majority.
In Rincón de la Victoria the PP took the biggest share of the votes, but it was the success of the local Partido Social Independiente del Municipio Ríncon Victoria which made the headlines. Under its leader José Miguel Fernández, known locally as Carloni, the PSIRV’s six councillors, against the PP’s eight, will hold a powerful position in the coming coalition.
The big winner in Cádiz was the PSOE, which took 32 of the province’s 44 municipalities. The party won a total of 330 of the 708 town council seats, double the number held by the PP. Apart from retaining its absolute majority in Cádiz city, the PP won in only four other towns in the province. Izquierda Unida was the highest-voted party in six municipalities. The only smaller party to achieve power was the local Roteños Unidos in Rota.
Foreign residents held hostage in bank raid
Masked gunmen grab 50,000 euros
By David Eade
A NUMBER OF FOREIGN RESIDENTS WERE AMONG THE CUSTOMERS HELD HOSTAGE AT A MARBELLA BANK DURING AN ARMED ROBBERY LAST WEEK.
At 13.00 Friday, the Banco de Andalucía in the Guadalmina commercial centre in San Pedro de Alcántara, in one of Marbella’s wealthiest areas, was at its busiest. The 30 staff and customers inside the bank had no idea they were about to became the victims of a terrifying ordeal.
A man armed with a sawed-off shotgun entered the bank and shouted threats at the people inside before quickly being joined by two accomplices. The masked raiders held the staff and customers for 30 minutes, according to some accounts, though police reports have indicated it was only 10 minutes. Whatever the timeframe, it was a horrifying encounter for the workers and unsuspecting customers there on business or drawing money for the weekend.
Everyone inside the bank was held at gunpoint whilst the robbers took between 45,000 and 50,000 euros in cash from the safe and tills.
One of the gang members hit one of the bank employees on the head with the butt of his shotgun, leaving a gash that required stitches. Another woman had to be treated for what was described as a nervous breakdown. According to eyewitnesses, the men made their escape in the same BMW they had arrived in and left parked nearby. An immediate police search was launched in the area but at press time no arrests had been made.
British father and son murder charge
Body of victim, also British, was found inside an Álora well
By Oliver McIntyre
A 32-YEAR-OLD BRITISH MAN AND HIS FATHER ARE SET TO GO ON TRIAL FOR THE MURDER OF ANOTHER MAN, ALSO BRITISH, WHOSE BODY WAS FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF A WELL ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF ÁLORA. The prosecutor is seeking 17 years in prison for each of the accused, plus 180,000 euros restitution for the victim’s family.
The body of Lee ‘Alfie’ H.W., 37, was discov-ered inside the well on July 18, 2005, eight days after his disappearance had been reported to police. The corpse exhibited a head injury and indications that the man’s hands had been tied.
Several months later the British father and son were arrested in connection with the crime, one of them picked up by police in England and the other in a Guadalhorce Valley town.
According to the prosecutor’s version of events, the victim, who ran a tile-laying crew, had fired Jason C.B. in mid-June 2005 after a dispute over an unpaid debt between the two men. A couple of days later they got into a fight in which the victim suffered significant injuries, though he never filed a police complaint.
Several weeks after that, according to the prosecutor, Jason C.B. and his father, Edward C.B., 58, met with the victim in Cártama under the pretence of discussing a potential job, but instead took him to an isolated location and struck a fatal blow to his head with a blunt object. They then tied his hands and strapped a block of concrete to the body before throwing it down the well, located in the Arroyo Pedro la Torre area of Álora.
In addition to murder, the prosecutor accuses the men of robbery; they allegedly took 2,000 pounds and 100 euros off the victim, as well as his bankcard, which they used to withdraw or spend a total of 3,380 euros.
School coach driver 11 times over alcohol limit
By Dave Jamieson
A Málaga coach driver has been detained after taking dozens of school children on an outing while his alcohol level was more than 11 times the legal limit. Police say the 44-year-old man recorded 1.7 mg/l in a breath test; the limit for commercial drivers is 0.15 mg/l.
The incident last Thursday involved two teachers and a group of 46 children, most of them aged 12, who were collected from their school at 10.15 and headed off towards Selwo Marina in Benalmádena. Noting that the bus was being driven somewhat erratically, and concerned the driver might be falling asleep, one of the teachers went to check that he was all right. The driver said nothing was wrong, but, after the coach had reached its destination safely, the teacher telephoned back to the school, which in turn telephoned the coach firm.
The company sent another coach to collect the party, and ordered the first driver to return to base, and also called Málaga’s local police, who stopped the bus in Avenida de Velázquez and conducted a breath test on the driver. Police sources said that the result was the highest recorded in the city during the last year.
In 2005 the coach driver reportedly faced fines and a 15-month licence
suspension for offences two years earlier. It is reported these included driving under the influence, refusing to take a breath test and dangerous driving. The new driving licence points system introduced last July threatens professional drivers with the loss of six points if they are found to have twice the legal limit of alcohol in their blood, but the government is already considering amendments. These include punishing drivers convicted with high blood alcohol levels by ordering community service, loss of licence for up to 12 months or six months imprisonment.
Lawyer released on bail in Malaya case
NEWS Staff Reporter
The judge in the ‘Malaya’ corruption case at Marbella town hall, Miguel Ángel Torres, has released the lawyer Juan Germán Hoffman from jail on 150,000 euros bail. The lawyer had been held in jail since being arrested four months ago, but the court decided that the risk of his fleeing or interfering with evidence was now greatly reduced. With his release, the only Malaya suspects still being held in jail are the alleged mastermind behind the scam and former director of town planning in Marbella, Juan Antonio Roca, former mayor Julián Muñoz and the late former mayor Jesús Gil’s onetime right-hand man, Pedro Román.Meanwhile, Judge Torres has authorised the sale of a mansion and a hotel belonging to Juan Antonio Roca. Both properties are registered in the name of Condeor, a company investigators have linked to Sr Roca. To ensure Condeor can meet the financial obligations of 11 pending court cases against it, the judge has agreed that the Palacio de Saldaña in Madrid can be sold for over 15.5 million euros and the Murcia hotel at Los Alcázares for 26.5 million euros.
International schools attract Spanish students
Parents look for quality education in a foreign language
By Oliver McIntyre
THE EVER-GROWING NUMBER OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS ON THE COSTA IS SERVING NOT ONLY THE EXPAT COMMUNITY BUT ALSO, INCREASINGLY, SPANISH PARENTS WHO WANT TO ENSURE THEIR CHILDREN BECOME FLUENT IN A SECOND LANGUAGE.
Despite the Junta de Andalucía’s efforts in recent years to incorporate bilingual programmes in state schools, a growing number of Spaniards are shelling out around 500 euros a month to enrol a child at one of the more than 20 private international schools in the Costa area.
More than a dozen of the schools, located mostly in towns along the coast, are British, but there are also French, German, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish schools. In all, they teach some 12,000 children aged three to 18.
Despite the continuing growth in the number of international schools, interest from both expat and Spanish families has kept demand more than apace with supply – in the last five years enrolment applications have increased by 50 per cent, and most of the schools have waiting lists.
Despite the increasing demand from Spanish families, many international schools reserve the majority of their slots for children of the nationality represented by the school. In some cases the quota for Spanish students may be as low as 10 to 15 per cent. In others there is no formal limit, and there are even some private bilingual schools geared mostly toward Spanish students, such as Málaga’s Colegio San Jorge. Education officials are quick to hasten that while the private schools provide an attractive option for many people for a variety of reasons, the state school system continues to attract the majority of foreign students in the Costa region. Indeed, 10 per cent of the children enrolled at state schools in Málaga province now are non-Spanish.
SAS increases summer health coverage
NEWS Staff Reporter
In an effort to reduce the surgery backlogs typically caused by summertime slowdowns, the Andalucía Health Service (SAS) is scheduling 23 per cent more operations this summer than last. The SAS-operated hospitals in Málaga province will perform 7,714 scheduled procedures, and an additional 3,300 are scheduled at the Costa del Sol hospital in Marbella, which is run by a separate public company. Not included in the figures are the inevitable emergency surgeries that will be performed during the summer months.SAS has also set aside 24 million euros for the hiring of substitute doctors, nurses and other personal to cover the summer holidays of regular staff at the province’s hospitals and health centres. A further 220,000 euros is budgeted for bringing in extra support staff at 11 health centres in busy tourism towns along the Costa. The 30 support positions include 16 doctors, 12 nurses and two assistants. The Costa del Sol hospital has budgeted 1.26 million euros for substitutes and 200,000 euros for extra support staff.
Málaga’s metro about to reach another milestone
By Dave Jamieson
Work on Málaga’s metro system is about to reach another milestone with construction on every section of Line Two underway. This week, the heavy machinery was due to move and start operations on the new underground transport system between Calle Frigiliana and Avenida de la Paloma, while work on the only two outstanding stretches is likely to get underway in mid-June.
The sections from the Molière roundabout to Los Guindos, and from Los Guindos to Calle Frigiliana will complete the length of the line which, by 2009, will take commuters along 6.5 kilometres of track from La Malagueta in the east to the Martín Carpena stadium, and eventually the airport, in the west. It will intersect with the railway network at the new Renfe station. Line Two will share tracks at its eastern end with the future Line One, which is expected to have a final 7.4-kilometre route from El Palo to the Technology Park.
The 575-metre Frigiliana to Paloma stretch is expected to be closed to road traffic for 11 months while the excavations and tunnelling continue. However, two service lanes, to the north and south of the work, are remaining open for emergency vehicles, public transport and residents. Diversions are in place for other road users.Málaga town hall is expected to give the final authorisation for work to start on the remaining two stretches in about ten days.
UK has hit 'hit ceiling' as Costa tourism source
Concrete jungle puts Brits off
By Oliver McIntyre
THE UK HAS LONG BEEN, AND CONTINUES TO BE, THE COSTA DEL SOL’S PRIMARY SOURCE OF FOREIGN TOURISTS, BUT THE NUMBER OF BRITISH ARRIVALS APPEARS TO HAVE “HIT A CEILING,” SAID JUAN FRAILE, THE PRESIDENT OF THE COSTA DEL SOL TOURISM BOARD, LAST WEEK.
The comment was in reference to several months of declining numbers of UK arrivals, according to the monthly Frontur tourism survey by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce.
“The downward trend is due to the fact that [the UK tourists] are a stable clientele for the Costa which at some point must show signs of exhaustion, possibly due to the tourists’ desire to see other destinations,” said Sr Fraile.
However, the tourism board chief also acknowledged that overdevelopment may have played a role in turning some people off of the Costa, as evidenced by surveys indicating that this is one of visitors’ biggest criticisms of the region. In terms of development, “it is clear that the future must take a different course,” he said.
While it is hard to overstate the importance of UK tourists – they represent 36 per cent of all visitors to the Costa – the slight drop-off in numbers in recent months has been offset by increases in the number of tourists coming from other important sources such as Germany and France. This successful diversification has resulted in the Costa’s overall foreign-tourism figures continuing to increase.
The Alhambra needs your help
Granada’s tourism star vies for Wonder of the World title
By Dave Jamieson
WITH ONLY A MONTH LEFT FOR VOTING, THE ALHAMBRA PALACE HOPES IT WILL SOON BE OFFICIALLY NAMED AS ONE OF THE “NEW SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD”.
The city of Granada is fully behind the monument’s bid and has launched a full promotion campaign to boost the monument’s ratings in the international contest.
The event, which aims to raise global awareness of the world’s shared cultural heritage, was set up by a Swiss filmmaker, curator and traveller, Bernard Weber, following the destruction of Buddha statues at Bamyan by Taliban fighters in 2001. An Internet site was launched inviting the world to vote for historical buildings or monuments and in December 2005, the top 77 suggestions, headed by the Great Wall of China and with the Alhambra in position 13, were published.
The list was then considered by a panel of experts who whittled it down to 21 and voting on this shortlist has continued ever since. Last week, the organisers said that more than 45 million people worldwide had already participated. Profits from the exercise will go towards conservation programmes at the top 21 sites.
The Alhambra palace is the only Spanish contender left in the running, although seven other sites in the country were in the top 77.
The town hall in Granada has launched a promotion campaign to help push the Alhambra into the top seven placings and in April more than 5,000 people joined hands around the palace in support. The 2.5-kilometre human chain was one of many initiatives in the city to encourage votes, and has been supported by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia who voted in January, Minister of Culture Carmen Calvo, and Prime Minister Zapatero who cast his vote during a visit to Granada last month.
WINNERS TO BE ANNOUNCED IN JULY
The announcement of the sites which will constitute the “New Seven Wonders” will be made on July 7 – 07.07.07 – at a major celebrity event in Lisbon to be broadcast internationally. The final list will not be ranked in any way with the winners regarded equally. Votes are being accepted by SMS, on the Internet and by phone. Text message the word ALHAMBRA to the number 343 (charges apply) or visit www.new7wonders.com. Alternatively, call 905 411 343 (charges apply) and a vote for the Alhambra will be recorded. Voting closes at midnight GMT on July 6.
High-flying success at raptor breeding centre
By Oliver McIntyre
The raptor centre at the top of Mount Calamorro in Benalmádena has reported a soaring success with the first captive-hatched Griffon vulture in Andalucía.
Hatched about a month and a half ago after spending some 50 days under artificial incubation at the centre’s breeding facility, the bird now weighs 3.5 kilos. But when fully grown, it could weigh more than double that and have a wingspan of more than a metre and a half. The vulture chick should make its first flight at about three to four months of age.
The Griffon’s range covers southern Europe, north Africa and Asia, but in many places its numbers have seen a sharp decline due largely to a lack of food. In Spain and elsewhere special conservation programmes have been introduced, including captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild as well as the installation of feeding stations stocked with carrion.The raptor centre on Mount Calamorro, at terminus of the Teleférico cable car ride, houses a variety of hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures and owls. In addition to its breeding programmes, the centre puts on raptor shows for visitors.
Job promises for Delphi workers
By David Eade
THE REGIONAL GOVERNMENT HAS STATED THAT WHEN THE DELPHI MOTOR COMPONENT PARTS FACTORIES CLOSES IN PUERTO REAL, FIVE COMPANIES WILL TAKE ITS PLACE AND CREATE 1,600 JOBS IN THE AREA.
However it will not be until 2010 that the companies will be in production and taking on a workforce. The Andalucian minister of employment, Antonio Fernández, wants these companies to be established in the next two years on the land currently occupied by the Delphi factories. The land was granted to the US multi-national by the regional government in 2003 and by the terms of an agreement signed by the two parties in 2005 belongs to Delphi until 2010.
The companies said to be willing to set up in the area are a Catalan-owned automobile steering wheel manufacturer which would initially employ 500 workers; another is in the steel sector and would require 700 workers. The other three are involved in the production of solar panels, bio diesel and computer software. They could create between 350 and 800 jobs between them. Other companies are said to be in negotiation with the regional government and are said to include the Factory shopping centre and Afer, which manufactures concrete structures.
ZAPATERO MEETS UNION OFFICIALS
Earlier in the week the Spanish premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had held a meeting with union officials representing the 1,600 workers at Delphi. He expressed his support in helping to find a solution to the closure of the factory but called on them to have patience.
D-Day for Spanish insurance brokers
Roaming call tariffs to be capped by August
By Dave Jamieson
MORE GOOD NEWS FOR MOBILE PHONE USERS HAS COME FROM THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION.
The cost of using a handset while abroad is set to fall by up to 75 per cent as “roaming” tariffs are capped. This follows Telefónica’s decision to reduce its domestic mobile rates by an average 9.5 per cent (CDSN May 24-30).
The EC last week approved changes which are likely to affect 150 million users across Europe. Although these have now to be approved by the 27 individual member states, observers say this will be a formality. A spokesman for the EC said people would now feel that they could use their mobiles while abroad for the first time, while Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall said that mobile phone users would not be penalised for simply crossing a border. The move came after lawmakers in Brussels realised that there were huge differences in tariffs from country to country, and the new regulations will put a “cap” on charges.
The maximum charge for making a phone call anywhere in the EU will be capped at 49 cents a minute in the first year, then to 46 cents and 43 cents in the following two years. The cost of receiving a call will be a maximum of 24 cents in year one, reducing to 22 cents and 19 cents in years two and three respectively. This would mean that a British user calling Spain for four minutes will pay a maximum of 1.96 euros compared with 5.92 euros at present, a saving of more than two-thirds. Prices exclude IVA (VAT) and the legislation will lapse after three years.
The new tariffs are likely to come into operation in late July or early August, but users have been warned that they do not cover texting and data roaming, which Fiona Gall described as having “excessive” changes. The mobile phone industry has also been warned that it should not reinstate higher charges after the three year period, with Arlene McCarthy of the UK’s Consumer Protection Committee at Westminster calling for “continuous and sustained reductions in call charges.”
TELEPHONE COMPANIES NOT HAPPY
However, telephone operating companies are not at all happy about the changes being forced upon them, despite being warned by the EU in 2005 to cut their costs voluntarily. They say the reductions in call costs may make it difficult for small firms to compete and that domestic call charges could rise as a result. Roaming charges presently account for about a tenth of the operators’ total incomes and the EC reckons that they are presently worth 8.8 billion euros to the EU mobile industry.