News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Residents, town hall at loggerheads over landslide
Municipal officials say the damage is on private property
By Oliver McIntyre
RESIDENTS of the Las Conchas II apartments in Torremolinos are battling with the town hall over responsibility for repairs to a collapsed wall and landslide that has left a road closed and the complex's parking zone unusable for the last three months.
The residents, many of them pensioners, say they cannot afford the cost of repairing the damage. Further, they say the homeowners' association's insurance company has told them the town hall should perform the repairs because the area immediately above the collapsed wall is a public road.
But the town hall says the wall and the land involved are on the complex's private property, and is the residents' responsibility.
As a safety measure, local police closed off Calle Río Magro, which runs between Calle de las Mercedes and Calle Conde de Mieres, and the town hall required the residents to erect fencing to protect pedestrians.
The residents continue to seek economic assistance from the town hall, saying that with their limited incomes and 84-euro monthly homeowners' association fees, they simply cannot come up with the money to pay for the repairs. For now, they seem to be at an impasse, and the road and parking zone remained closed.
Volunteers honoured at lunch with mayor
Town hall uses the occasion to launch second issue of newsletter for foreigners
By Oliver McIntyre
THE volunteers who serve as interpreters for Benalmádena's health centres and National Police, and who operate the foreign-language section at the Arroyo de la Miel library, were honoured last week at lunch with the town's mayor, Enrique Moya.
"The town hall wishes to recognise Benalmádena's volunteer interpreter programme, now in its 15th year, for its work to create greater understanding between the town's diverse nationalities," said the mayor. There are currently some 40 volunteers, and the mayor encouraged anyone with a strong knowledge of Spanish and a foreign language to join the programme by contacting the Foreign Residents' Department.
During the lunch at Restaurante Alborada, the councillor for foreign residents, María del Carmen Romero, used the occasion to present the second edition of the town hall's newsletter for foreigners. "The Foreign Residents' Department continues with our commitment to offer the foreign community information about the town's social, cultural and civic issues, with the goal of achieving full integration," she said.
The free, English-language newsletter is aimed at providing information that foreign residents might not otherwise have easy access to due to the language barrier, explained the councillor.
Costa hit hard as thousands stranded by volcanic fallout
By John Peatey and Dave Jamieson
STRANDED travellers have finally begun to make their way home after airports around Europe started to reopen earlier this week following the chaos caused by the Icelandic volcano eruption.
The number of flights in and out of Málaga airport was more than halved at the peak of the volcanic ash crisis which began last Thursday. The total of passengers affected locally has been estimated at approaching 200,000, many forced to use their own initiative to get home before some flights to the UK resumed yesterday. However, it will be some time before normal operations can be resumed and passengers are advised to check with their airline before going to Málaga airport.
Airports operator Aena said that around 60 per cent of flights had been affected at Málaga with services from and to the UK worst hit. Internal flights were largely unaffected although 17 Spanish airports including Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona were closed for a time on Saturday and Sunday. The Association of Travel Agents put the total of those affected in the province at over 170,000, around 40 per cent of whom were travelling with tour operators.
Secondary victims of the situation include hotels, taxi drivers and car rental companies. José Carlos Escribano, president of the coast's Association of Hotel Businesses, said they were keeping in touch with tour operators but that losses were inevitable. Up to 20 per cent of hotel reservations had failed to materialise, he added.
The city's taxis have seen a sudden and unexpected downturn in business as travellers fail to arrive at Málaga airport. At one point last weekend, 170 taxis were reported to be on duty at the airport with not a single passenger to collect.
Car rental companies, however, said they had been inundated with requests to extend the hire period of cars already rented and from people searching for vehicles to drive at least part of the way home. However, some were reported to be charging up to 2,500 euros for a one-way rental from Málaga to Calais.
While accepting that a natural event caused their plight and the airlines were forced to put safety first, many travellers found it difficult or impossible to contact their carriers for information and to rebook seats.
Alternative means of travel suddenly became essential and as a result access to many internet websites including Brittany Ferries, Alsa and P&O became difficult. By Sunday afternoon, Renfe's site was showing no availability for eight days on the overnight train from Madrid to Paris, after which ‘grand class' tickets at almost 700 euros were the only option. Santander was besieged by travellers who had got there in the hope of catching a ferry to the UK and the port was described by one lucky passenger as frightening as people battled for the remaining places. On Monday the UK government announced it was deploying Royal Navy ships to bring home Britons stranded in Spain and elsewhere on the Continent, and on Tuesday the cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse set sail from Southampton to Bilbao to pick up around 2,000 marooned tourists.
Everyone had a story to tell. Elaine Hylton, a head teacher at a Manchester school who was anxious to get home for the start of the new term on Monday, should have flown to the UK last Friday with husband Bryn, after holidaying in Nerja. "We spent most of Friday morning trying to contact Monarch airlines by phone," she told CDSN. "It was impossible to get through and so we finally booked seats on the internet for a Tuesday flight which was very expensive by comparison with our cancelled flight. When it was clear that the Tuesday flight was unlikely to operate, we booked onto a coach from Málaga to London. It's a 32-hour journey but thank goodness we did it when we did, as the service is now fully booked for the next 10 days."
Thomas Hirth from the Rib House in Torrox should have been on holiday in Germany with his wife Kerstin this week, but they too fell victim to the cancellations. "When we got to the Ryanair check-in at Málaga airport," he said, "we didn't even get a chance to speak to the staff. They just pointed to the public internet area and told us to go over there and re-book our flights. I was amazed at how rude and unhelpful they were."
Unfortunately the couple's misfortunes continued, as despite re-booking with Air Berlin, the German airline made an administrative error and by the time it was picked up, the plane was full. "So," he said ruefully, "here we are, on holiday, at home!"
Million-euro reward to find Amy
One-month offer for information leading to her discovery alive or dead
By Oliver McIntyre
THE parents of Amy Fitzpatrick, the Irish teenager who went missing in Mijas on January 1, 2008, have offered a million-euro reward for information leading to her discovery, alive or dead.
Amy's mother Audrey and stepfather Dave Mahon announced the appeal last week, saying, "This reward is for us to get Amy back one way or the other."
The couple said the money was donated by four friends of theirs and the offer is open from April 19 to May 19. Callers to the hotline (687 202 907) can remain anonymous and the money will be paid out 15 days after Amy is found alive or 15 days after police identify her remains.
"Some days we hope and pray Amy ran away but we know that's not the truth," said Amy's mother. "Two years and three months after her disappearance that's impossible.
"Some days we think she's alive, other days we think she's dead. Not knowing what's happened to her is awful. We're desperately hoping Amy's still alive but if she's not, we want to know and we want her back so we can grieve her loss and put her to rest."
Police complaints to be taken at Mijas hotels
The crime reports will be sent electronically to the Guardia Civil
By Oliver McIntyre
TOURISTS in Mijas will soon be able to file robbery reports directly at local hotels and golf complexes.
Mayor Antonio Sánchez called the scheme a "pioneering service" on the Costa that will improve tourism services and increase public security.
Under the programme, which was developed in collaboration with the Guardia Civil, a tourist who is a victim of a crime can make a report at the establishment where they are staying, and it will be immediately transferred electronically to the Guardia Civil.
Complaints in English
The electronic reporting system developed by the Guardia Civil for the scheme allows complaints to be filed in Spanish and English, though work is already underway to add German and French, said officials.
Officials have held meetings with representatives of local hotels and golf complexes to explain the details of the system. Participation in the scheme is also open to other local businesses that are "interested in improving their service to tourists," said the town hall.
Murderer found hiding in Marbella mountains
Arrested man believed to have taken to hills after 2007 killing
By David Eade
A SPANIARD was arrested by the Guardia Civil last Wednesday accused of the murder of a Finnish woman whose dismembered body was found on a Sabinillas beach more than two years ago.
On December 22, 2007, residents of Sabinillas found the victim's remains on the sands. The body was cut off at the abdomen and the right arm was missing. The corpse was covered in seaweed.
The Guardia Civil were summoned and found that the woman's body was in an advanced state of decomposition. There was no clue to her identity and the remains were taken to the Institute of Forensic Science in Málaga for a post-mortem.
‘Toxic shoes' still on market, warns Facua
Substance used to prevent mould can cause itchy rashes
By Oliver McIntyre
MORE than a year after the first alert over rash-causing ‘toxic shoes' from China, some affected models are still on the market in Spain, consumer watchdog Facua warned last week.
Shoes and boots impregnated with dimethylfumarate (DMF) were first detected in Spain in December 2008 when some consumers reported severe rashes and itching. The substance, used to prevent mould in products, is found in sachets in that are put into the shoebox. The agent evaporates and impregnates the product to protect it.
Reactions can include redness and rashes with itching or burning, and Facua says that in some cases the substance can cause eye irritation and, combined with certain existing medical conditions, respiratory problems.
The group says that from the time of the first product alert was issued in December 2008, a total of 301 notifications have been made related to 118 brands of shoes or boots for adults, children and babies.
"Facua considers meagre the actions taken by the Health Ministry's National Consumer Institute and the regional health authorities to alert consumers about this toxic substance," said the group.
GarzÓn to stand trial for abuse of power
Controversial judge faces charges over investigation into Franco crimes
By Dave Jamieson
JUDGE Baltasar Garzón was last week charged with abusing his powers and now faces a trial in court. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court accused him of violating a 1977 amnesty which protects members of the Franco regime from legal prosecution.
The allegations surround the first-ever Spanish investigation into abuses committed during the rule of General Franco which was instigated by Judge Garzón in October 2008. He accused Franco and his staff of crimes against humanity, citing 114,000 forced disappearances, and ordered 19 mass graves to be exhumed. The judge argued that the amnesty law could not be applied to crimes against humanity, a view which has been supported by the UN Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International. Under pressure from state prosecutors, he later handed responsibility for the exhumations to provincial courts.
In addition to paving the way for a trial which is expected to begin next month, last week's Supreme Court ruling denied permission for the judge to call legal experts as witnesses. These were to include a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court and an Argentinean judge who voided that country's amnesty law in 2005. However, his defence team is expected to appeal this decision.
Sr Garzón faces a charge of ‘prevaricación' - acting with a knowing disregard for the law - and is likely to be suspended from his judicial duties until the conclusion of his trial. If found guilty, he could be barred from practicing for as long as 20 years. However, he says he will continue to defend his "absolute innocence."
590 million-euro plan to boost electric cars
Subsidy scheme aims to put 70,000 electic vehicles on the road in next two years
By Oliver McIntyre
THE SPANISH government has announced a 590 million-euro plan aimed at putting 70,000 electric vehicles on the road in the next two years.
The 15-point strategic action plan was presented by Prime Minister Zapatero during an industry summit last week in Madrid. The scheme, which includes subsidies of up to 6,000 euros for the purchase of electric vehicles, projects the sale of 20,000 units in 2011 and 50,000 in 2012. Officials say the longer-term goal is to have 250,000 electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2014.
In addition to subsidies - which are already available under the Plan Movele pilot scheme launched in 2009 - the new action plan includes several measures aimed at sparking demand plus others to promote research and development and to create infrastructure to support the use of electric vehicles.
Among the immediate measures will be the performance a survey of private and public vehicle fleets in order to identify those with strong potential to be renewed with electric vehicles. The plan also calls for the creation of incentives such as allowinig electric vehicles access to restricted zones, or providing special off-hours electricity rates for recharging vehicles.
The budget for the plan includes 240 million euros in subsidies for buyers; 173 million euros for research and development; 140 million euros to promote business endeavours related to electric vehicles; 35 million euros for the creation of systems to improve charging efficiency; and two million euros for marketing.