Costa del Sol News - 25th September 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week September 25 - October 2008


Victim's parents have been battling for more than two years to have their son's body repatriated

By Olvier McIntyre

The prosecution and the defence last week agreed to a nine-year prison sentence for a man who stabbed to death 22-year-old British father of one, Gary Dunne, in Benalmádena in March 2006.

The sentencing agreement came after Victor Posse Navas, 24, admitted on the first day of the trial that he stabbed the victim, but said he couldn't remember the details of the incident because he was under the influence of drugs at the time. The prosecutor was originally seeking a 14-year sentence.

The nine-member jury found the defendant guilty of murder and recognised his drug addiction as an extenuating circumstance. The judge will issue the formal written sentence in the coming weeks. The stabbing occurred in the early morning hours of March 2, 2006, when Mr Dunne and a friend were walking along a local street and were attacked by a group of Spanish youths.

Mr Dunne received a knife wound in the abdomen that caused damage to internal organs. He underwent six hours of emergency surgery but died the following day. The young Briton, originally from Liverpool, had been living in Benalmádena for several years along with his parents. He and his fiancé, Ashley Buchanan, had a five-month-old son named Kieran and were saving up for their wedding.

Mr Dunne's parents, Stephen and Leslie, who have since moved back to the UK but were in Málaga for the trial, have been battling for more than two years to have their son's body repatriated so he can be buried at home in Liverpool. After coming up against a Spanish technicality that forbade them to move the body unless it was cremated first, the couple have collected tens of thousands of signatures on a petition asking the UK government to intervene with Spanish authorities.


The trio have completed legal detention term and now await trial

By David Eade

Puente Mayorca residents are furious at the release of three minors alleged to have killed the owner of Las Palmeras bar at the end of last year, and fearful for their own safety. A neighbour said one of the boys had spent Tuesday night celebrating at a family party while another said the trio would be stronger than ever as they had used their time behind bars to muscle up at the detention centre gym.

The trio, who have completed a nine-month term of detention in a youth centre, the longest period permitted by law are now awaiting trial but cannot approach their victim's family, nor reside in Puente Mayorga or other zones of San Roque.

Tómas Márquez Moreno was murdered as he closed his bar late at night on December 18 last year. The bar had been robbed a number of times as had other businesses in the area. In the days following his death local residents held a series of angry demonstrations demanding better security in the hamlet.

The three youths lived in Puente Mayorga and were arrested days after the slaying. It is alleged that one of the youngsters stabbed Tómas a number of times before they made off with the day's takings. He was rushed to La Línea hospital but died shortly afterwards. Guardia Civil officers found clothing covered in blood, which was subsequently DNA tested, while searching the minors' homes.

As the news of the trio's release, pending trial, broke on Wednesday there was an impromptu demonstration in Puente Mayorga in which some 150 residents took part. The crowd gathered in the Alameda de San Pablo where the bar is located at around 19.00 after word spread from mouth to mouth.

The coordinator of the Algeciras prosecutor's office, Juan Cisneros, stated that if the residents saw the youths in Puente Mayorga they should immediately inform the Guardia Civil. The terms of their release bar them from the hamlet and if they go there they can be rearrested.


Town hall calls opposition's criticism 'shamefaced' political ploy

By Oliver McIntyre

In the wake of the September 4 fire in the Mijas sierra, the opposition Partido Popular last week criticised the town hall and regional government for not taking adequate measures to protect the sierra and for downplaying the damage caused by the blaze. Some of the PP's complaints were echoed by the environmental group Ecologistas en Acción.

The PP stated that in less than a decade, beginning with the major forest fire in July 2001, nearly half of the forestland in the local sierra - 1,500 of 3,300 hectares - has burned.

The party described as "an insult to the intelligence of the people of Mijas" comments made by the head of the Junta de Andalucía's Environment Department head, Remedios Martel, who after the September 4 fire "issued assurances that 70 per cent of the 75 hectares that burned will recover naturally."

The PP called for several measures, including a new fire station for the town, a permanent presence of the regional Infoca wildfire squad in the Mijas sierra during the summer months, and the creation of a special municipal patrol to monitor and perform maintenance work in the sierra year round.

But Mijas town hall accused the PP of a shamefaced attempt to use the unfortunate incident of a forest fire for political gain. The mayor, Antonio Sánchez, said the estimate that 70 per cent of the affected forestland would regenerate on its own was the assessment of professional technicians working in the field, not a politically motivated statement.

Further, he said the town already has a well-equipped and strategically positioned fire station, and that the Junta's Environment Department currently works year round on maintenance and patrolling in the sierra.

Meanwhile, investigators have pinpointed a group of youths they believe caused the fire, maybe accidentally. Security video from a local petrol station shows the group buying an uncommon brand of condom, the wrapper of which was found near the start point of the fire. It is believed a cigarette butt sparked the blaze, and that what were at first believed to be separate start points were in fact secondary fires caused by sparks from the initial one.


But officials say the 45 units in question could be still legalised

By David Eade

The decision by the mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz, to start the demolition of empty buildings that contravene the local development plan was welcomed by the residents of San Pedro. The regional government approved the move ahead of the draft local development plan (PGOU) being accepted by the council as it is still going through the consultation process..

However, the residents of the Alta Vista have been left angry and scratching their heads in puzzlement over the town hall's actions. Six houses built illegally on land classified as a green zone have been given their demolition orders. Yet there are another 45 homes in the Mediterranean-style pueblo built by Prosavi that have escaped the order.

Locals say these homes were built at the same time as the other six. They insist they have no licence and contravene the 1986 PGOU in the same way as the others do. The 45 houses, forming a horseshoe, stand partly completed and have not been sold to new owners, so the residents argue they should also go. In a statement issued by the residents they insist "this is totally illogical.".

But it appears that the town hall issued the demolition order on the six homes specifically because they are on green-zone land, meaning there is no way they can be legalised. The others do break the 1986 PGOU, but the constructor may be able to legalise them under the compensation scheme for illegal properties set out in the new planning document. Hence, for now they have escaped demolition and their future will be decided once the PGOU comes into force.

According to the police for this work they received both a large amount of money or part of the hashish consignment which they then sold on. It has been stressed that operation “Roca” still remains open and further arrests cannot be ruled out.


Officials hope event will help promote bird-related tourism

By David Eade

With its closure on Sunday the organisers of Tarifa's first international ornithology fair reported that over 6,000 people had attended the event, some 1,000 more than originally estimated.

Miguel Ferrer of the Fundación Migres, which organised the fair, was overjoyed and stated: "We have far exceeded the number of people we thought would attend this first event."

Attendees were able to visit three marquees set up on the site adjacent to Los Lances beach - one for institutions, another for crafts and the third for businesses. Ornithologists were also able to participate in bird-watching activities and to watch the ringing of chicks.

One of the essential aims of the bird fair was to boost tourism to the Tarifa area, one of the most important bird migration zones in the world. But it also promoted rural tourism in the Campo de Gibraltar area in general, as well as other environmental attractions such as whale and dolphin watching.

The Cádiz tourist board and the Diputación de Cádiz used the fair to bring specialist travel agents from the UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Finland, Holland, Norway and other parts of Spain to see the ornithological and environmental attractions of the area. The Diputación also announced that it was upgrading the bird watching station at Tarifa and had special posters produced showing the birds that can be seen in the Strait zone.

One of those who participated in the official inauguration was noted British ornithologist Tim Appleton, who organises Europe's largest bird-watching event in Rutland.

Environmental cry

A special award was made at the end of the fair to the former president of Spanish Ornithology Society, Fernández Cruz. He took the opportunity to speak out against the various levels of government that had permitted damage to the environment and to birdlife by allowing the construction of wind generators, urban development and the building of the A48 through Los Alcornocales national park. All of these, he pointed out, had done serious ecological damage in the Campo de Gibraltar area.


Health delegate Maria Jesus Montero said that construction would take six years

By Dave Jamieson

The regional government is considering a project to build a huge new hospital in Málaga to replace Carlos Haya, the Materno Infantil and the Civil. The plan has come to light at a time when there have been calls for more hospital beds to be made available in the city. The Junta de Andalucía wants to create a "new Carlos Haya" which will become a reference point for hospital care in southern Europe. First reports suggest that the so-called macrohospital could be located on a 150,000 square metre within the Andalucía Technology Park (PTA) and would increase the number of beds available in the city from 1,080 at present to 1,500, all in private rooms, with a total of 48 operating theatres, ten more than are presently in use. The floor space of around 280,000 square metres would be twice that of the total presently in use by the three hospitals it would replace.

Last week's announcement of the proposals for a macrohospital was followed by the cancellation of an expansion programme at the Hospital Civil. Ten months ago, the Junta said that a new building to provide 110 beds was to be constructed next to the existing hospital at a cost of 55 million euros. While no firm timetable had been announced, it was thought that the new facility would have been open within four years.

Professionals in several fields are understood to have already been consulted on the macrohospital project which would bring together the services of the three existing hospitals under one roof, so creating a major centre of medical investigation as well as providing an improved service to patients. It is thought that the new hospital would also attract private sector business, including pharmaceuticals, biomedicine and health technology, to the PTA.

Announcing some of the details last week, health delegate María Jesús Montero said that construction would take six years and that finance would appear in the region's budget for 2009.

The Junta is believed to have chosen Málaga above other Andalucían cities for such a major project because of its communications infrastructure, the capacity of hotels and its reputation for nurturing high level technologies. Initial reports say that Málaga is considered to have all the advantages required for a facility to rival the great medical centres of North America.

Of course, the initiative, presently in its design and viability study phases, comes at a price. Construction is presently estimated at between 400 and 450 million euros, plus 150 million more for equipment. This will require support from central government, which owns Carlos Haya and the Materno hospitals, and from the provincial government, which owns the Civil, as well as from Málaga Town Hall which will have to provide the land for building.


Last flight is scheduled for September 28

By Dave Eade

The word started to circulate in Gibraltar on Friday that Spanish airline Iberia was about to pull the plug on its Madrid service. Rumour became reality on Monday with an official statement that the last flight will be on Sunday, September 28.

The airline's online booking service had been ahead of the game. Anyone trying to get a booking on the Madrid route beyond September 28 was told it was not possible to find availability and that no flights could be found, suggesting September instead.

Iberia has been flying to Gibraltar twice weekly, on Fridays and Sundays, after the airline abandoned daily flights which were inaugurated on December 16, 2006, with much fanfare. The initial service was operated in tandem with GB Airways, whose flights only lasted a few months from May to the end of the summer last year. After GB Airways was taken over by easyJet, the budget airline immediately made it known that it had no interest in restarting the service.

The commencement of the Madrid flights followed on from the developments in the Córdoba Agreement between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar under the tripartite talks. The Madrid route was to be the visible "symbol of success" of the tripartite process.

The new development reinforces the view among many in Gibraltar that both Iberia and GB Airways opted for the route not for commercial reasons, but for political reasons. GB Airways's director, James Gaggero, said at the time that the airline was keen to do all "we can to support the efforts of our politicians and the Cordoba process."

Iberia had whittled its Madrid service down from daily flights to a weekend service. However, there was never the predicted demand, even less so since the AVE high-speed train service started operation between Málaga and Madrid and the improved Altia twice daily trains from Algeciras to the Spanish capital.

Airport activity

Ironically, Iberia's withdrawal comes at a time when Gibraltar's airport is busier than ever with British Airways, Monarch and easyJet all operating daily services to London-based airports and Manchester. It had been hoped that there would be a link between the Rock and Barcelona but the crisis in the airline industry has scuppered that for now. Questions will again come to the fore about the advisability of building a £50 million air terminal on the Rock at this time. However, the Gibraltar government can point to a busier airport than ever to justify the development.


Military aircraft sent to protect fishing and cargo ships

By Dave Jamieson

A military aircraft left Sevilla on Saturday en route for Somalia where it will help to protect boats from attacks by pirates. The move follows dozens of attacks this year in the shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed the departure of the P-3 Orion, accompanied by a Boeing 727 and a Hercules helicopter, along with 90 crew from the Moron air base. The operation is expected to last for three months although it could be extended.

At the weekend, Somali pirates were reported to be holding 12 ships and around 200 crew hostage after a week of attacks in their ongoing campaign, which is beginning to disrupt fishing and regional trade. Hijackings begin with seizure of the vessel by the heavily armed pirates, which typically takes about 20 minutes, and then the holding of the crew until a ransom is paid. According to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur, 56 ships have been attacked in Somali waters already this year.

Last week French commandoes rescued a retired couple who had been captured onboard their yacht, and in April, the crew of a Spanish fishing boat were only freed after a reported payment of $1.2 million (over 825,000 euros). Earlier this month, a Basque crew fishing for tuna 325 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia managed to evade the pirates by racing off at high speed until the attackers gave up the chase. Most of Spain's fishing fleet now works further out to sea.

International mission

Spain's defence minister, Carme Chacon, said last week that the patrol aircraft which has arrived in Somalia would inform fishing vessels, freighters and ships transporting humanitarian aid about the movements of pirates. It could also form the start of an international mission against piracy following the agreement of EU foreign ministers to set up a coordinated unit to address piracy off the Horn of Africa.


Three car bombs as courts outlaw pro-ETA groups

By Dave Jamieson

Three car bombs which exploded at the weekend in the Basque region have left one person dead and several injured. The incidents followed last week's decisions by Spanish courts to outlaw three pro-ETA organisations.

In the early hours of Monday, a 46-year-old soldier, Luis Conde, became the third person to die this year in an ETA attack when a car bomb exploded in Santoña, 40 kilometres east of Santander. The device had been left close to an army training centre and was the third and most serious incident within 24 hours. A warning in the name of ETA had been given by telephone but the short time between the call and the detonation had not given adequate warning for the area to be fully evacuated. At least eight other people were injured, one seriously.

The first of the weekend's three bombs exploded at around midnight on Saturday in a non-residential suburb of Vitoria, capital of the northern Basque region. A coded warning 45 minutes earlier from ETA, the armed Basque separatist group, enabled police to clear the area, including a nearby restaurant, and the device went off without causing any injuries. Police said a large quantity of explosives had been planted in a Renault Clio left parked 20 metres outside offices of the bank Caja Vital, which were damaged by the blast. The force of the explosion also damaged a sports stadium which is home to the Tau Vitoria basketball team.

There was no warning ahead of the second bomb, which exploded in the Vizcaya town of Ondarroa at 4.30am the same night. At least 10 people were injured by the blast outside offices of Ertzaintza, the Basque police force. The two perpetrators are believed to have parked the primed vehicle and then thrown molotov cocktails to draw staff out of the building and near the car, before fleeing the scene.

Six of the injured were police officers while the remainder were passers-by; the regional government said most were only slightly injured. However, a 15-year-old girl suffered serious head injuries. Basque Interior Minister Javier Balza said the 100 kilos of explosives had been intended to create "a massacre." On Tuesday last week, a National Police officer near Bilbao had a lucky escape after driving 10 kilometres in a car later found to have a limpet mine attached. Tedax experts who defused the device said the movement detector in the bomb failed to ignite the 750 grams of explosives it contained.

Parties outlawed

Last week the Supreme Court banned two political parties which have supported ETA. Both the ANV (Basque Nationalist Action) and PCTV (Communist Party of Basque Lands) were declared illegal organisations by the court action. The ANV was the Basque region's third largest political force while the PCTV had nine MPs in the regional parliament. Gestoras Pro Amnistia, an advocacy group for jailed ETA members, was also outlawed last week, with 21 of its members given prison sentences of up to 10 years.


Figurines grow 600 per cent when soaked in water

By Oliver McIntyre

A consumer watchdog has issued a warning about small toy figurines that grow as much as 600 per cent in size when soaked in water and could be extremely dangerous if ingested by a child.

If a child bit off and swallowed a piece of one of the toys, which typically are in the shape of animals or dinosaurs and come packaged alone or inside an egg, cage or fish tank, it would "increase in size after coming into contact with saliva or gastric fluid, and could cause asphyxiation and gastrointestinal damage," says Facua.

The group has identified 14 models of such toys on the market in Spain. They are manufactured in China and imported to Spain and elsewhere in the EU. But Facua says their importation is in fact illegal under an EU toy safety regulation which establishes that toys made of expandable material must not increase in size by more than 50 per cent.

Only some of the models have appeared on the EU Consumer Affairs Department's RAPEX rapid-alert system, says Facua. It urges the Ministry of Health and Consumers to submit the others for RAPEX listing and to take steps to remove the toys from the marketplace.

The dangerous models

The models identified by Facua include three called Crocodile Egg, Duck Egg and Dinosaur egg, of unknown importer. The other 11 are distributed by UK-based importer Puckator and are called Grow a Leprechaun; Colored Growing Ocean World; Alien Embryo; Growing Alien; Growing Skeleton; Growing Monster Family; Chicken Egg; Snake Egg; Magic Dinosaur Growing; and two dinosaur egg models called Hatch'em.