Costa del Sol News - 3rd July 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week 3rd July - 9th July 2008


Television sports commentator Alan Parry held a boys' night out in Nerja last week to celebrate his 60th birthday. Alan, who has covered FA Cup Finals, Olympic Games and athletics amongst other sports, is now commentator on Sky TV's revival of Gladiators. After watching Germany win the first Euro2008 semi-final, the lads enjoyed a sports quiz at Bitter and Twisted restaurant on Burriana beach in which Alan's team emerged victorious. In addition, the night raised over 300 euros for local charity Taller de Amistad by auctioning a soccer short signed by Wayne Rooney. Photo: J. Peatey


National Police industrial action delays UK flights from Málaga

By Dave Jamieson

Travellers to the UK and elsewhere may face airport chaos as officers of the National Police Corps continue a series of planned strike actions.

The first day of their action last Friday caused long queues at Málaga airport and flight delays of up to an hour, mainly on services to the UK. It is believed that no passengers missed their flights as a result of the action, which caused problems at passport control.
Elsewhere in Spain, traffic queues of nine kilometres built up on the south side of the border with Andorra.

The officers were due to continue their industrial action yesterday and today in support of a pay claim. Five more stoppage periods of two days each are planned during July.

The only work the officers are guaranteeing to continue during the stoppages is that required for general security, including emergency and humanitarian assistance.

They plan to halt routine paperwork, which means, for example, that no new DNI certificates will be issued and it will be impossible for Spanish nationals to obtain new passports on strike days.
There will be essentially no National Police presence at ports or airports during a period when around four million visitors are expected to arrive in the province of Málaga.

Five trades unions are behind the series of national strikes, which are connected to calls for improved salaries. They claim the Ministry of the Interior will not negotiate with them, blaming the country's difficult economic situation. The unions are calling for at least parity with the other security forces, including local and regional police.

The action not only falls during a period of high tourism, but during a month in which many National Police officers will be taking annual leave. Local authorities fear this may create serious problems in coastal municipalities where populations can quadruple during July.

Strike dates

The remaining work stoppages are planned for July 9 and 10, 16 and 17, 23 and 24, plus 30 and 31. No action is threatened during August but the unions say strikes will restart in September if the matter has not been resolved.

Rocío Wanninkhof's mother 'humiliated' by TV minis

TVE-1 movie focused on plight of falsely convicted Dolores Vázquez

By Oliver McIntyre

Alicia Hornos, the mother of Tony King murder victim Rocío Wanninkhof, said last week that she felt "humiliated" by the television miniseries that recreated the events surrounding the case.

The two-part series, which aired on July 19 and July 26 on state broadcaster TVE-1, focused on the drama surrounding the arrest and false conviction of Dolores Vázquez prior to Tony King being identified as the actual killer of the Mijas teenager.

"The press consistently offered an image of the accused that pointed to her guilt," said TVE in its publicity material for the TV movie.

But Sra Hornos said the miniseries was created without consulting the family and contained numerous factual errors. Despite the family having had nothing to do with the project and receiving no money for it, she and other family members have faced taunts from people in the street accusing them of trying to profit from her daughter's tragic murder, she said.

Wrongly jailed for 17 months

Sra Vázquez, who had been romantically involved with Rocío's mother - and whom Rocío's mother has consistently maintained was involved in the murder - spent 17 months in prison before being released when her trial was overturned. It was while she was awaiting her retrial that Tony King was arrested for the murder of Coín teenager Sonia Carabantes and his DNA was connected to both the Coín and Mijas murder scenes. The charges against Sra Vázquez were subsequently dropped, and King was convicted for both murders.

Insurance to pay 1.4 million euros for coach crash

A court commission will determine the distribution of the money

By Oliver McIntyre

The insurance company of the driver of the 4x4 that caused the April 19 coach crash on the A7 motorway, which killed nine Finnish tourists and left dozens more injured, has put up a total of 1.4 million euros for those affected.

The company has indicated that 24,831 euros is to go to the bus driver and 8,538 euros to the driver of the 4x4, both of whom were injured in the accident.

The rest is earmarked for Finnish victims and family members. The Torremolinos court in charge of the case has indicated that the distribution of the money will be determined by a commission set up for the purpose.

The insurance company says the payout is "above the minimum that the victims have a right to" based on the official compensation tables.

Not enough

Nonetheless, at least one accident victim has already challenged the amount offered. Legal representatives for the bus driver, who suffered head injuries and was "unconscious in the ICU for several days," have called the payout "totally insufficient." The head injury left him with difficulties in concentrating and a variety of other injuries have reduced his mobility, they say. His post-accident condition amounts to "a disability, at the very least for carrying out his profession as a bus driver."

Mijas town hall to auction Hotel Byblos over debt

Starting bid is 15.2 million euros

By Oliver McIntyre

Mijas town hall has announced it is going to embargo and auction off the five-star Guadalpín Byblos hotel in order to recover a 1.2 million-euro debt from its owner, the development company Aifos. The company's debt to the town hall, related to unpaid taxes and fees, dates back to 2006, say local officials.

Aifos representatives have said the town hall's announcement, printed in the Official State Bulletin last Tuesday, is merely a pressure tactic in ongoing negotiations over the debt, and that the auction will not really move forward.

But the town hall insists that, while it is not happy about carrying out the embargo and auction, it is doing so as a last resort after negotiations - including an offer to allow the company to pay off the debt in 65,000-euro monthly instalments - have been unsuccessful.
"It is necessary to move forward with the process in order to safeguard the public interest," said the town hall.

The hotel is to go up for auction with an opening price of 15.2 million euros, which represents its assessed value of 39.6 million euros less its outstanding debts, principally the mortgage, which will be assumed by the buyer.

The auction is scheduled for 11am on July 29 in the town council chambers.

What's on offer

The hotel, which Aifos acquired in June 2006, announcing an eight million-euro upgrade programme that was never carried out, is located in the Mijas Golf urbanisation. Among its amenities the five-star establishment includes 144 suites and mini-suites, indoor and outdoor pools, three restaurants, a spa and four tennis courts.

Ronda's mysterious crop circles

Has an alien spaceship visited the town of the Tajo?

By David Eade

In recent days mysterious field circles have appeared in the Navares area of Ronda, leading to investigations not only by the local police but also by journalists from the magazines dedicated to the paranormal, such as Enigma and Año Cero.

The discovery was first made by a worker who noticed the strange markings in the wheat fields. He said: "I was working then took a break and looked at the horizon and for the first time saw these strange designs in the wheat."

He knew from having seen newspaper reports that similar shapes had appeared in fields throughout the world. His discovery soon led to whispered rumours that an alien spaceship may have landed there, though calmer heads suspect the markings are nothing more than a hoax.

There are two circles of the same circumference. They have distinct markings inside and are connected by a line. They are about 40 metres long and 10 metres wide. The journalists from the paranormal magazines have recorded their exact dimensions.

'Burn' marks

The head of the local police, José Carrasco, confirmed the existence of the markings. He added that it was not known how or when they were made as there are no witnesses. They are in a location that is difficult to access but Sr Carrasco confirmed that there were "burn" marks on the wheat.

Luis Mariano Fernández, a journalist with Enigma, commented: "The truth is that at first sight the markings attract your attention because of their symmetry and their large size." Samples of the burnt wheat have been sent to laboratories to ascertain the source of the fire or heat. The local police have also drawn up a report and it is hoped that the scientific findings may result in the solving of the mystery.

New report warns ondangers of sun beds

Half an hour under a sun bed is equivalent to spending an entire August day sun-bathing.

By Dave Jamieson

As temperatures soared into the 30s and beaches filled with sun worshippers, a warning was issued to users of artifical tanning apparatus. A leading cancer expert in Málaga said last Thursday that half an hour under a sun bed is equivalent to spending an entire August day sun-bathing.

Enrique Herrera, professor of dermatology at Málaga Universiry, said that regular use of a sun bed can multiply the risk of developing a skin melanoma by a factor of six. The professor was presenting the results of study in which the city's Hospital Clinico participated and he explained that artifical rays penetrate the skin more deeply than natural sunlight with the consequent risk of damaging cells and producing tumours.

He said that, in Andalucía, there are no regulations governing tanning centres' use of equipment or the training of staff who operate it. This is in spite of the fact that medical professionals and the Spanish Tanning Association have called on the Junta de Andalucía several times to introduce such legislation, as has happened in almost all the other autonomous regions.

However, the professor reported that the incidence of skin melanomas in the province of Málaga is lower than the national average, and presently runs at 79 cases per year. It is increasing at ten per cent annually, he added, but this rate has slowed from 25 per cent six or seven years ago when public awareness campaigns were launched. But, he added, more cases are being seen amongst outdoor workers including farmers, sports men and women, construction workers and the the catering sector. The incidence of other skin tumours in Málaga, however, is running at twice the national rate. Prevention is fundamental, said Professor Herrera, as is immediate diagnosis, since skin tumors can be cured in over 90 per cent of cases, with melanomas curable in over 80 per cent. To achieve a natural tan, he recommend avoiding direct sunlight between midday and 4 pm, and the use of sun protection of at least factor 30.

Surprise ban on vehicles angers beach businesses

Bathers as well as workers forced to walk down from top of cliffs

By Dave Jamieson

One of coast's most popular nudist beaches has been closed to all motor traffic, much to the surprise of workers at two businesses located there. Representatives of the Environment Department blocked all public vehicle access to Cantarriján beach, east of Nerja, on Saturday.

Last year, as a measure to protect the local environment, a maximum of 100 vehicles at any one time were allowed to drive down the track which leads to the Granada sands. Now, however, all sun-worshippers and beach workers must park at the top of the cliffs and either walk down or take the transport provided by the regional government at a cost of two euros per journey. Staff at the two bar-restaurants claimed that no warning of the closure was given and no explanation for it was forthcoming from the authorities.

Frustrated efforts

The businesses say they have been talking to the Environment Department for several months with the help of the Association of Chiringuitos, and believed that they had reached an agreement on vehicular access for the 20 or so people who are employed on Cantarriján. They are also cynical about the reasons behind the change, pointing to the privately-operated minibus which charges to take visitors up and down to the beach.

A local Partido Popular councillor, Juan José Ruiz Joya, described the move by the PSOE-governed Junta as "dictatorial" and said that he had tried on more than a dozen occasions to reach an accord with the authorities on arrangements for this summer season.

Hopeful retailers launch summer sales

Weak spring season could mean quick bargains for shoppers

By Oliver McIntyre

Following a disappointing spring, Costa retailers are hopeful that the summer sales season will lure customers back and generate as much revenue as last summer's markdown campaign.

Fecoma, the Málaga Traders Federation, estimates that people in the province will spend an average of between 100 and 150 euros each during the sales season, which was officially launched on Tuesday and runs to the end of August. It expects the campaign to generate a total of 85 million euros in revenues, similar to the summer 2007 markdown season.

Consumers may benefit from the retailers' poor spring performance. Fecoma says the drop in sales seen over recent months means many stores are backlogged with a large stock of unsold merchandise and will be eager to get it out the door fast. The result could be price-slashing of 40 to 50 per cent right at the outset of the sales season.

Stores throughout the province will be open for business on the first Sunday of the sales season, July 6.

As usual, the products expected to be the hottest sellers during the markdowns are clothing and shoes, followed by home furnishings and personal electronics.

Employment boost

The sales are also expected to provide a short-term employment boost in the province. Last year retailers hired some 5,500 people as extra help during the sales season, according to Fecoma.

Goodbye to the Volvo Masters

The PGA event is moving from Valderrama to Dubai

By David Eade

The PGA has confirmed that this year's Volvo Masters at the Valderrama course will be the last, for now, to be held in Spain. In 2009 the end-of-season European Tour event will be held in Dubai, no doubt following the big bucks to the dessert course.
Not only is the Volvo Masters one of the top golf tournaments but it is usual that the European Order of Merit for each season is decided by how golfers fare at the final event.

Over recent years the Andalucía government has invested a lot of cash in ensuring the Volvo Masters was either held at Valderrama or another course in the region and it bore the tag Volvo Andalucía Masters. Indeed, the prestigious event has become synonymous with the Valderrama course, which itself is rated the best in mainland Europe.

The Volvo Masters moved to the Monteastillo course in Jerez in 1997 when Valderrama hosted the Ryder Cup and then the World Match-Play Championship, but has been a major success since its return, with large crowds turning out to see the golfing stars in action. Now it has been lost again.

Match-play on the way

But golf fans in southern Spain can take solace, as another major event is on its way to the region. Next year the 2009 Volvo Match-Play World Championship will come to Andalucía. However, it will not be at Valderrama, but rather at El Cortesín in Malaga province.

First international soccer triumph since Franco

It's 44 years since Spain last won a major football tournament

By David Eade

It's 44 years since Spain last won a major international soccer tournament and that was in the final years of Franco's fascist dictatorship. So when a nervous José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain's Socialist prime minister, witnessed Sunday night's 1-0 European Championship victory over Germany, he too was making history.

Speaking after the triumph the premier said: "I am the first prime minister of the democratic period who has experienced the winning of a title like this. My generation deserved to see such a triumph."

On Monday evening an elated Spanish team was greeted by hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters lining Madrid's streets and plazas. However, whilst the team was united in victory it is not so clear that this was the situation in a politically divided country.

One of the reasons given for Spain's exciting performance throughout the tournament was the lack of the traditional rivalries between players from Real Madrid and Barcelona or the fractious regions. Liverpool's Fernando Torres, who scored Spain's single goal in the final, described Sunday's triumph as a "great victory for a whole country."

The Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fàbregas, who is one of six squad members from the staunchly separatist Cataluña region, proclaimed: "This was not a victory for Madrid or for Barça. This was a victory for a country and a victory for football."

Whilst the players were united, some of the politicians from Cataluña and the Basque region were not. They have been accused of making neutral comments about the national squad. It was also noticeable that in Barcelona there were none of the giant television screens that had been set up in other Spanish city and town plazas.
This indifference was also reflected in the television viewing figures. Whilst an 87 per cent level was recorded in Madrid, it was much lower in the Basque region, Cataluña and the Catalan-speaking region of the Balearic Islands.

Let the final word go to the Spanish premier, who had been criticised ahead of the event for attending the final in Vienna, as this was said to traditionally bring the side bad luck. Sr Zapatero conceded that he didn't know whether the triumph would help bind the nation together but added: "In any case, I don't think it will do any harm, that's for sure."

Good drivers to receive bonus points

Motorists must have had clean driving record for three years

By Dave Jamieson

Drivers who have lost no points from their licences are to be rewarded by the government. To mark the third anniversary of the introduction of the points system, a bonus of two extra points will be awarded to all drivers who have retained their 12 original points.

The comments came last Wednesday from the Interior Minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who said that the extra points would be added to licences in July 2009, as laid out in the law that established the points-based licence in July 2006. The Minister said he believed that the system of licence points was one of the fundamental elements that have contributed to a reduction in road accidents.
New data shows that up to June 15, 4.1 million points had been lost by Spanish drivers, of which 81 per cent were forfeited by men and 19 per cent by women, suggesting three per cent of all drivers had been sanctioned. In the first two years of the scheme, 7,162 people had their licences suspended, with a further 9,500 cases pending. The most common reasons for losing points were speeding, using a mobile phone while at the wheel, drink-driving, and failure to use a seatbelt or crash-helmet.

Since December 2007, when automatic prison terms were introduced for drivers with excessive amounts of alcohol in their blood, the number of cases has fallen by a half. The Minister said that, as a result, he expected the number of fatalities from traffic accidents to fall during 2008, for the fifth consecutive year. However, he added that he has set the security forces a target of 4.5 million roadside breath tests this year to maintain this momentum.

New moto laws

The next major reform of traffic laws is due on September 1 when the minimum age for riding mopeds and low-power motorcycles rises to 15 years. However, the Minister indicated that he was studying a possible moratorium after pressure from a number of parliamentary groups who want to retain the age limit at 14 years.

Ecologists want Aborígena chiringuito banned

Agaden believes the environment will be harmed

By David Eade

The environmental group, Agaden, is calling for the mayor of Tarifa, Miguel Manella, to turn down a licence for the Aborígena 'chiringuito' on Las Lances beach. The mayor has already asked local police to ensure that the establishment doesn't go ahead with its website promise of late night parties.

Agaden is opposing Aborígena because it believes it will harm the environment. It also suspects that the bar actually belongs to the owners of the old Serengueti bar-restaurant that used to occupy the same site. The ecologists point out that last year the Serengueti failed to comply with closing times on several occasions and there were complaints from local residents about the noise.

The Aborígena used to be on El Palmar beach at Vejer, but that town's mayor, Antonio Verdú, banned bars in that area because of the damage caused to the local beauty spot. In addition thousands of people used to gather at the Aborígena for drinking parties late at night, and ecologists and residents do not want this scenario repeated in Tarifa.

Barbate building

Meanwhile in Barbate, residents of the Playas del Estrecho urbanisation, in Caños de Meca, are complaining about a bar-restaurant which is being built close to their homes at the edge of the beach. They are worried about the threat of late night noise and partying. They are also amazed that the Coastal Authority has permitted a bar to be constructed so close to the beach.
Their anger has not been mollified by the fact that they are not allowed to carry out even small modifications to their own properties because of local building restrictions. The planned bar-restaurant is not the traditional wooden 'chiringuito' structure but be a permanent building standing two storeys high.