Costa del Sol News - 24th April 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Costa del Sol weekly newspaper, on sale at newsagents.

Week 24th April - 30th April 2008


Pictured here are employees and friends of Costa law firm De Cotta, McKenna and Santafé who recently took part in a sponsored walk from their office in Nerja to The Garden Restaurant in Frigiliana. A grand total of over 1,000 euros was raised for their chosen charity, Cudeca, and a great day out was had by all.


Brits hit by economic crisis

By Nuria Pérez and Dave Jones

EXPATS suffering the double-whammy of a weak pound and rampant inflation have spoken of how they are struggling to make ends meet.

Costa Brits receiving pensions in sterling have seen the value of their monthly payments plummet in recent months.

A year ago one pound was worth 1.46 euros but that has fallen to just 1.25 euros this week - an all-time low.

At the same time they have to face up to a steep rise in the cost of living, with the price of staple products going through the roof in Spain.

Statistics institute INE revealed that milk has gone up by 27.8% and bread by 15.1% in the last year. Other basic products have also rocketed with inflation running at its highest rate since 1995.

Pasta is up by 18.1%, flour by 10.1%, chicken meat by 8.9%, fresh fruits and vegetables by 11.1% - and fuel by 19% and gas by 7%.
Economy minister Pedro Solbes admitted this week the general price-hike was 'not satisfactory'.

He added that inflation could be curbed if energy and cereal prices in international markets do not increase further.

He said: "In the second part of 2009 the situation could start to even out."

Meanwhile financial experts are predicting more pain for the pound - particularly if the Bank of England continues to cut interest rates to ease economic jitters.

Ian Walker, managing director of Costa-based Mortgage Solutions, said he was not confident the rate will improve in the short term.
"I think the euro will become even stronger against the pound," he said.

Expat PSOE spokesman David Lawrie said the rapidly-falling pound could have serious repercussions.

"Pensioners living in Spain have already seen their pensions drop by almost 30% and these figures are still rising," he said.

Forced to make savings

Pensioners hit by the weak pound and rising prices are being forced to make savings to get by.

Although the cost of living is still lower than in the UK, many are having to change their lifestyle in Spain in order to make ends meet.
For some, luxuries are on the backburner until the economic crisis is over.

Pensioners Peter and Janine Banks moved to San Pedro in 2002.
They told CDSN that they are suffering the collateral effects of the poor exchange rate.

Mr Banks described the situation as 'income down, expenses up'.
He explained: "We have lost over 2,000 euros in the past year on our joint income.

"Our annual pension increases have not kept up with the downturn in the exchange rate.

"The increase in price of basic foods has not helped either.
He said: "Coffee in 2002 was 80 cents, the menu del día was 5.50 euros, and diesel was 67 cents per litre."

"Now when we go out we have to watch what we spend, for example we may go for tapas, rather than going to a fancy restaurant.
They now buy their food in different supermarkets in order to pick up the best buys.

He added that they are also suffering from the increase in mortgage rates.

"When we took the mortgage on this apartment three years ago it was 4.37 per cent.

"The new mortgage will be nearly 5.5 per cent.

"Mike Chappell and wife Angela bought in 1999 - in the days of the peseta.

Mr Chappell, a 50-year-old retired police officer, said he was shocked that Brits were not complaining more about the situation.
"What has amazed me is that the squeals of expats have not been heard louder," he said.

"Perhaps many are yet to receive pension payments?"

He added that he and his wife had been forced to make savings.
"The main cut backs in view of the pound's falling value on our part is meals out," he explained.

Mr Chappell added that the UK should now start to take the euro seriously.

"The sooner people in Britain realise that the future lies with Europe and not the USA the better," he said.

"One cannot exist alongside a 'super currency' like the euro and expect things to remain stable.

."He added that a weaker pound was 'certainly going to be a reality for the foreseeable future'.

"I feel that the sooner the pound is linked to the euro in preparation for adopting the euro the better," he added.

Expat John Brady is finding the exchange rates hard to stomach.
He said: "My works pension has increased 50 pounds a month over the past two years but in the same period the amount going into my bank in euros has dropped by 220 euros.

And Jackie Cameron, the owner of the Pasty Shack, said she had noticed a marginal rise in basics for her products.

"At the moment it is not as alarming as in the papers," she said.
"Our suppliers from the UK have increased the price three times, but we only increase them once a year.

"We have many regular clients, and our sales have not dropped.
"The increase affects different businesses in different ways but it has only affected us marginally."

Nine killed in horrificcoach crash

Driver being held responsible for the accident was two times over the legal alcohol limit

By David Eade and Suzan Davenport

THE 27-YEAR-OLD Málaga driver, whose reckless driving allegedly caused the coach crash on the A7 motorway between Benalmádena and Torremolinos on Saturday evening, could face imprisonment as soon as he leaves hospital.Nine Finnish tourists, six women, two men and a seven-year-old girl were killed and 38 people seriously injured when the coach they were travelling in from Marbella to Málaga airport was in collision with a black Kia four-wheel drive vehicle. According to eyewitnesses the car was being driven at excessive speed, in wet weather conditions, when the driver lost control on a curve, and crashed into the central crash barrier before rebounding and hitting the bus causing it to veer sharply before overturning and being pierced by a large part of the crash barrier.

Some of their bodies were so badly damaged that DNA tests were needed to identify four of the victims. The wreckage and bodies lay strewn across the road for hours, causing massive traffic tailbacks on the eastbound carriageway. Rescuers from nearby cars who tried to help some of victims out of the wreckage were stunned by the carnage and initial silence as victims lay in shock.A government official was quoted as saying the SUV driver was found to be two times over the legal alcohol limit.The Torremolinos judge investigating the accident agreed on Tuesday to release Jesús G.R. from custody until he leaves Carlos Haya hospital, which could be in two to three weeks' time, after a medical report said he was not able to appear in court due to an operation on his back injuries. The judge also asked to be informed by the hospital as to his recovery.

Málaga road safety prosecutor, Javier de Torres, said he has asked for a provisional release "given the impossibility of taking a statement at this time".Thirteen survivors of the crash left Málaga airport on Sunday on a special Finnair flight to Helsinki while thirteen more remain in different hospitals in the region and are accompanied by Finnish psychologists and family members.This was Spain's most deadly bus accident since November 2001 when 20 people were killed after their coach went off the road near Huelva.

Thousands take to the streets to make their voices

Demonstrations in Marbella, Gaucín and San Roque

By David Eade

The recent wet weather didn't prevent protestors in various towns from taking to the streets this weekend to make their voices heard on local issues. The first of these demonstrations was in Marbella on Thursday, where over 1,500 residents gathered in La Alameda park to show their anger over Juan Antonio Roca's release from prison. Roca is the former head of town planning and alleged mastermind behind the 'Malaya' corruption scandal. He has been held in jail for two years but was allowed out last Monday after paying a one million-euro bail.One of Spain's top judges, Baltasar Garzón, spoke out in support of Marbella judge Óscar Peréz, who had allowed Roca's release but this in no way stemmed the anger in Marbella, where all political parties and resident's associations are united in declaring "this man should be in prison".The wide spread fury was fuelled further by Roca's announcement that he wants his job at the town hall back. He insists that as he has not been found guilty of any offence and wants to return to his 9,000-euro a month post as director of public works in a department he has worked in for 15 years.

Genal Valley march

The mood was no less intense in Gaucín where 3,500 local people and residents of the wider Genal valley marched on Saturday afternoon through the village in heavy rain. The purpose was two fold, to honour the memory of 24-year-old Luis "Lucky" Alberto Ramíraz who died from peritonitis in Ronda hospital after twice having been discharged by its emergency unit, and to demand better health care in the area.Improved health coverage has long been a campaigning point for local politicians and many mayors took part in the march. They pointed out that the 15 municipalities in the area only have one ambulance between them and are demanding a second ambulance. Luis Alberto was rushed to hospital just before he died in his sister's car because the only ambulance had already been called out to another patient.Speaking at the demonstration Luis Alberto's sister, María José Ramírez, stated that a new protest was being planned for Ronda. The grieving family intend to take action against the Serranía health authority claiming negligence by its staff and also demanding an additional doctor for the area.

Pinar del Rey

The last of the demonstrations was on an equally wet Sunday at the Pinar del Rey in San Roque. This was the latest of a series of protests against plans to build a motorway through this valuable green lung for the Campo de Gibraltar that was planted by the Spanish Navy back in 1800.The last two such protests organised by Ecologistas en Acción have been held in appalling conditions. However it is a mark of the strength of feeling among people in San Roque, the wider Campo area and Gibraltar against this road project, that they still flocked to the Pinar del Rey to voice their anger over the pending destruction of this valuable environmental site.

Los Merinos golfdevelopment halted for now

Economic crisis and new golf law blamed for temporary stoppage

By David Eade

The controversial golf development at Los Merinos has been halted by the company behind the scheme, for now. Cataluña based Copisa is aiming the project at British and Nordic buyers and has blamed the economic crisis, the downturn in the property market and the regional government's new golf course law for its decision.The developers proposed to build two golf courses, three luxury hotels and around 800 homes as well as other leisure facilities on the site which lies 12 kilometres from the centre of Ronda on the road to Campillos. This has caused wide-spread anger in communities such as nearby Cuevas del Becerro and Arriate who fear that the golf scheme will use up the water supplies on which they depend on.A halt to work on the site is expected at the end of this month when the project to install the basic infrastructure has been completed. The development will then remain on hold while Copisa says it awaits an up-turn in the market and reaches agreement with the regional government over its planning requirements and the thorny issue of water supplies.While the development of Los Merinos may be on hold, legal activity against the project is still going ahead. The regional government is appealing a decision by a lower court to allow work to continue after it tried to impose an embargo. Also the leftwing Izquierda Unida party in Ronda has taken a case out against the mayor, Antonio Marín Lara, alleging that he had illegally given a personal decree allowing the scheme to proceed.

Symbolic funeral

The announcement of the halt to the golf development came just before the symbolic funeral held in potentially one of the worst affected communities, Cuevas del Becerro. Houses and balconies in the village were draped in purple and around 60 people spent from Friday night to Sunday locked in the local town hall.The protest, called for by the Plataforma Cueveña en Defensa del Agua, went ahead despite Copisa's temporary halt, because local residents want the project to be stopped completely. They fear that their aquifers will be drained leaving them without water.

Alleged fraudsteroffers a transplantheart for 10,0

By Dave Jamieson

A 45-YEAR-OLD woman has been arrested in Málaga for allegedly trying to extort 10,000 euros from the mother of a terminally ill patient. She is accused of offering to supply a heart from the US for a transplant operation.The two women are reported to have met in the waiting area of the Intensive Care Unit at the city's Carlos Haya hospital. The mother of a 19- year-old youth was visiting her son who was suffering from serious heart deterioration caused by a bacterial infection. The alleged fraudster pretended that she also had a son with a similar condition in the hospital, and after a few days, when she felt her victim had confidence in her, made her offer.She claimed to have a friend in Memphis who was a prestigious scientist and who would be able to supply a heart for transplant. The fee for bringing the organ from the US, she advised, would be 10,000 euros. Luckily, the boy's mother became suspicious and said she would be advising the police, at which point the accused left. The family advised the hospital authorities who in turn brought in the National Police. Officers asked for a watch to be kept for the woman's return.Sadly, the 19-year-old died two days later, but his mother remained in touch with another family whose mother was seriously ill. When this family were approached by a woman making a similar offer, they got in touch, the police were called and the alleged fraudster was quickly detained.

Hyundai's Málaga U-turn throws staff out of work

Administrators could demand compensation from the Korean firm

By Dave Jamieson

HYUNDAI'S decision not to proceed with the purchase of the Vitelcom telephone factory in Málaga has caused shock, upset and uncertainty. Almost 300 workers, who thought that their jobs had been secured, now find themselves unemployed.Hyundai's surprise announcement was made known to Vitelcom employees on Tuesday of last week. The company's administrators said the business was without liquidity, with debts of 240 million euros, and would only pay wages up to April 14. It was also announced that a deal had been done with regional and central governments to pay employees compensation of 20 days' pay per year employed from the Guaranteed Social Fund, which is administered by the Ministry of Work.The factory's problems began in October 2006 when Telefónica announced that its purchases of mobile phones from Vitelcom would be reduced by 95 per cent. In March 2007, creditors began legal action for non-payments and throughout last year, a buyer was sought. In February this year, approval was given for the purchase of Vitelcom by Hyundai for 25 million euros; the Korean multinational announced the factory would be converted to make solar panels instead of mobile phones. Last week, however, came the announcement that the panels would now be made elsewhere in Spain.

Employees protest

Employees started a sit-in at the factory in the early hours of last Friday while their representative, Juan Romero, urged the Junta de Andalucía to bring a closure to the "advanced" negotiations they are reported to be continuing with an unnamed business over the factory's future. Workers say they will continue to occupy their workplace for 12 hours a day until a solution is forthcoming. Outside the factory, they have placed numerous small, white, wooden crosses in the grass to represent the jobs lost.The CCOO trades union said that they were continuing to pressure the Junta de Andalucía to take action against Hyundai following their U-turn. It claims the take-over deal was almost finalised but at the last moment, Hyundai had pulled out. Experts say the administrators could now demand compensation of three million euros from Hyundai.

New technology is just the ticket for Málaga's bus

Users pay by waving their mobile phone in front of a scanner

By Dave Jamieson

NO CASH, no ticket. Just a wave when you board your bus. This could be the future for users of public transport in Málaga if current trials go well.The city's transport undertaking, EMT, has begun a three-month experiment with brand new technology which will let users pay for their travel tickets using the latest generation mobile phones. The secret is Near Field Communication (NFC) which allows very close range wireless connections between devices. NFC has been described as being like Bluetooth but with a shorter range and easier to use.Once the bus ticket is bought electronically by phone, all the user needs to do on boarding the bus is to wave the phone within four centimetres of a reader to confirm they have paid for the journey. No contact is necessary between the phone and the reader for validation to occur.

Fifty passengers try out system

EMT has chosen 50 passengers to try out the system over the coming weeks but is already optimistic about the outcome. EMT's manager, Miguel Ruiz, said last week that the system would reduce the number of steps required to pay for bus fares from three to one. Once the user has set up an account with Mobipay, a secure system which allows a credit card payment to be made from any mobile phone, the details can be entered on the NFC option of the latest mobiles. This can then be accessed with a one-button shortcut by the user. The new generation of phones are expected to become more generally available from the end of the year.The use of NFC is predicted to expand hugely. Experts say it will be used to pay for football and cinema tickets as well as bus fares, and can even be used as the key to an hotel room. Málaga's mayor, Francisco de la Torre, described the development as reinforcing the city's position as the technology capital of Europe.

Monarch to reestablished Gibraltar to Manchester route

Flights will start from September 12

By David Eade

THE BUDGET airline Monarch will relaunch flights between Gibraltar and Manchester as from September. The airline already flies from the Rock to London Luton but cancelled the Manchester route in July 2006 switching instead to Jerez. However it also cancelled the Jerez services earlier this year and now is set to return to Gibraltar.This news will be welcomed by hotels in Gibraltar who keenly felt the loss of the North of England traffic. Monarch caused widespread anger with the withdrawal of these flights but blamed the high landing costs at the Rock's airfield. The Gibraltar government later stepped in to take control of the charges at the airport and recently announced they would be slashed by 70 per cent.Tickets for the Manchester service are now on sale starting at 48 pounds one way including all taxes and charges. Round-trip services on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will start from September 12.Liz Savage, managing director of Monarch's scheduled division said: "We are delighted to be bringing direct services to Gibraltar back to the Northwest which will operate in addition to our ongoing services from Luton."She added: "Gibraltar provides an ideal gateway to both the Rock plus the many holiday hotspots in Southern Spain."Gibraltar's government naturally welcomed the news.

The minister for transport, Joe Holliday, stated: "I am pleased to see that the government's recently announced new business model for the airport is starting to produce positive results, so soon after its announcement. The reintroduction by Monarch Scheduled of direct flights between Gibraltar and Manchester reopens both business and tourism links with an important catchment area outside the London region in UK.“

Odyssey admits wreck is probably Spanish

Marine company's revelation confirms government's suspicions

By David Eade

THE SUNKEN vessel at the centre of a bitter row between the US-based Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Spanish government is probably one of that nation's ancient wrecks. The company recovered the treasure in secrecy and then flew it direct to the USA from Gibraltar causing outrage in Madrid government circles.The matter then passed to a court in Florida where Spain pursued its claim against the marine explorer. Although Odyssey attempted to keep the identity of the wreck confidential, last week the judge ordered it to disclose its hypothesis as to the identity of the vessel.Odyssey says it believes the vessel is probably Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes y las Animas. The Spanish galleon sank in 1804 in the Atlantic south west of Portugal carrying gold and silver from South America.Spain has always suspected that the wreck was flying its flag at the time of its sinking. In Florida an attorney for the Spanish government says he'll go „full speed ahead“ with trying to force the company to give back the 17 tons of silver coins and other artefacts.

Mercedes was likely candidate

Indeed for some months the Mercedes was thought to be the most likely candidate. However Odyssey stated that it was not 100 per cent sure of the wreck's identity and it was reviewing information that was inconsistent with its theory about its identity.Odyssey insisted that it did not want to disclose the wreck's probable identity as it felt this went against US stock market rules on disclosure which could affect the share price. However Florida judge Pizzo dismissed the company's arguments and ordered the wreck to be named.

Nerja health centre to go ahead after five years

By Dave Jamieson

ANOTHER hurdle has been overcome in the long history of Nerja's new health centre. Mayor José Alberto Armijo announced last week that he had received written confirmation of the Junta's approval of its proposed new location.The news means that construction of the health centre can now go ahead on a site north of the N340 at the Burriana beach roundabout. The original location was immediately opposite, on the south side of the road, but it was found to present a number of complex construction problems. The proposal to move it across the N340 required a change to the town's local development plan (PGOU) which has now been approved by the Public Work and Transport department at the Junta de Andalucía.The mayor called for the town hall and the Health Department to move forward quickly and licence the project, adding that its financing was the "exclusive responsibility" of the region, but was waiting to hear from Health Delegate, María Antigua Escalera, on the subject. However, Sr Armijo added that if the Junta decided to hold the town council to the 2003 agreement which obliged each party to pay half the cost, Nerja would assume its responsibility. If all goes well, work could start by the end of this year and be completed during 2010.

Foreign children make up 20 per cent of pupils

British kids top the list followed by Scandinavians and Moroccans

By David Eade

A FIFTH of pupils at Benalmádena schools are non-Spanish it was revealed last week. Although the figure is not surprising for a leading tourist resort where a large percentage of its residents are foreign nationals, it does show a significant increase in numbers from just ten years ago when foreign residents settling on the coast were mostly pensioners.These facts on pupil numbers were released by Jesús Relinque, a professor of intercultural relationships at the Cerro del Viento and Al-Baytar institutes in Arroyo de la Miel. He reported that there are over 1,600 foreign pupils in the local schools and these come from 32 different nations.He said that the communities most represented in the schools were British and the Nordic countries followed by Morocco. Sr Relinque added there was also an important growth in pupils from China.

Intercultural celebration

To mark the multi-national make up of the local schools, the Cerro del Viento secondary school has recently held its ninth intercultural celebration. This year the pupils learnt about the custom and traditions of Peru, Morocco, Russia and China. This included sampling typical dishes from each nation.The councillor for education, Elena Galán, was on hand to launch the event. She pointed out it demonstrated the large diversity of nationalities that now call Benalmádena their home. Around 1,000 pupils from the 13 schools in the municipality took part in the celebrations so that they could learn more about the different cultures in their midst.

Ten billion euros promised to kick-start Spain's economy

One-off tax rebate of 400 euros confirmed for all workers and pensioners

By Dave Jamieson

AN ELEVEN-POINT plan to stimulate the economy has been announced by the Spanish government. Last Friday's cabinet meeting approved 10 billion euros worth of tax cuts and new spending this year, designed to ease problems which have followed an economic slow down.The measures include good news for homeowners who have the opportunity to extend their mortgage periods free of charge over the next two years, while a one-off tax rebate of 400 euros was confirmed for all workers, including the self-employed, and pensioners; up to half the amount will appear on employee payslips in June with the remainder spread over following months. Finance minister, Pedro Solbes, said he did not expect the estimated six million-euro cost of this move to push public accounts into the red. In addition, Inheritance Tax (Patrimonio) is cancelled as from January 1 this year, a move estimated to be costing the government around 1.8 billion euros.

Business sector credit

The business sector will welcome the two billion euros of credit for those who qualify as PYMEs (small and medium-sized businesses), while IVA refunds can be requested monthly instead of quarterly from next year.Twenty-one million euros has been set aside to help the unemployed relocate to find work, and the spending already promised on assisted housing has almost doubled. One hundred and fifty thousand low-interest houses are to be built annually with an emphasis on energy efficiency, while tax breaks are to be given when the cost of renovating a property is more than a quarter of its purchase price. The government has also promised to speed up the way public works are put out to tender and contracts completed, in an effort to revive the construction industry. Finally, it plans to improve investment conditions for non-residents.During the general election campaign, Prime Minister Zapatero promised to dip into the budget surplus to stimulate growth, and has since pledged to make the economy the priority of his second term. Spain had a budget surplus of 23.4 billion euros last year, a third up on 2006 and the third year running in which the country has shown a profit.

Pink is the new red for Spain's new socialist cabinet

NEWS Staff Reporter

THE NEWLY appointed Spanish cabinet is "too pink," accordingly to Italy's prime minister. Silvio Berlusconi has triggered a row between the countries after making derogatory remarks about the number of female ministers appointed by President Zapatero.During a radio interview last week, following his third successive general election victory, Mr Berlusconi appeared to criticise Sr Zapatero's decision to appoint nine women in his new 17-strong ministerial team (CDSN last week). He said, "Zapatero has formed a government which is too pink, something that we cannot do in Italy because there is a prevalence of men in politics and it isn't easy to find women who are qualified." He added, "He'll have problems leading them."The Italian premier's remarks were welcomed with a mixture of incredulity and anger in Spain. The Infrastructure Minister Mágdalena Alvárez commented that the remarks were wholly inappropriate and offensive. "Many women," she said, "would never belong to a government headed by Mr Berlusconi."Elena Valenciano, the Spanish president's secretary for international relations, said Berlusconi should follow Zapatero's example and give women a prominent role in his own cabinet, adding that, "It would benefit society and politics." Even one of his harshest critics, Esperanza Aguirre, the conservative leader of Madrid's regional government, defended Zapatero by saying it was one of the best things he had done.Despite promising to include "at least four women" in his cabinet, Silvio Berlusconi continues to anger groups pressing for equality. During campaigning ahead of the Italian election, he referred to his female supporters as the "menopause section" with his party's women candidates known as "the knight's ladies," the knight being 71-year-old Berlusconi himself.The Italian leader later tried to make light of his latest gaffe, saying that his words had been misreported, adding he would pay special attention to the actions of the Spanish government and of its female members. "I have greatly appreciated the colour pink in that government," he said.

British forces take part in Barbate exercises

One hundred and eighty-five troops from three nations participated in the military manoeuvres

By David Eade

BRITISH, French and Brazilian forces took part in Spanish military exercises on Barbate's beaches at the weekend. Espabras 08, was an international exercise that included counterterrorist and hostage rescue operations, the use of explosives, underwater specialists and the deployment of Harrier and F-18 aircraft, plus helicopters and Supercat craft.Observing events was the heir to the Spanish throne Prince Felipe de Borbón. He served in the Spanish navy and wore a captain's uniform and witnessed the action from close quarters. Rear-Admiral Santiago Bolíbar Piñeiro said 185 troops had taken part "in an operation which has shown the capabilities and resources of the Spanish navy, to carry out a task that would take place at night, in a short time span and in a limited area."