News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Nerja palm tree owners get council reminder
The red palm weevil has caused the destruction of thousands of palm trees along the coast
By Dave Jamieson
LOCAL gardeners in Nerja have been warned that they are responsible for checking the health of palm trees on their land and are obliged to pay for the treatment of any found to have been infected by the destructive red Palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus).
The insect originates from southeast Asia and Polynesia and has spread along the coast, now effecting Motril, Salobreña, Molvizar and Almuñécar in Granada plus Nerja, Frigiliana, Torrox and Vélez-Málaga in Málaga.
The town hall issued a reminder last week that gardeners who have, or plan to have, palm trees should be aware of changes to the Junta de Andalucía's legislation to try and stop the damage. All related costs including pruning, treatment against infection and the chopping up and removal of the palm are the responsibility of the owner, it says.
Anyone who finds an infected tree is instructed to contact an authorised garden company to dispose of it correctly.
An information sheet also warns that if the Guardia Civil's environmental arm Seprona discovers an infected tree which has not been reported, officers will arrange for its disposal and recover the full costs from the owner.
Air chaos looms
Spanish air traffic controllers vote to go on strike later this month
By Dave Jamieson
USCA secretary César Cabo announces strike (Photo:EFE)
SUMMER holiday plans are set to be thrown into chaos for millions after Spanish air traffic controllers voted for an official strike later this month. On Tuesday, they overwhelmingly decided to stop work as part of a continuing dispute over working conditions.
It will be the first time that the country's air traffic controllers have ever taken such industrial action and the move will cause disruption at the height of the summer holiday season. Over 2,000 of Spain's 2,300 controllers participated in Tuesday's ballot and more than 98 per cent of them voted in favour of stopping work.
Their trades union, USCA, did not immediately confirm the start date or duration of the strike but it is expected to be a three day stoppage scheduled after the holiday weekend of August 14 and 15. The government is expected to order the controllers to maintain a "minimum" service level, which in the case of recent strikes on Spanish railways, has resulted in more than half the schedule being operated.
The dispute began when the government, immersed in an austerity programme to reduce a huge budget deficit, called for controllers' pay to be reduced. Last year, their average annual salary was 350,000 euros with the top earner being paid 900,000 euros. Thirty more earned over 720,000 euros while 130 others were paid more than 600,000 euros.
Hunt on for English gunman
The Spanish police have issued an international arrest warrant for Darren O'Flaherty
By David Eade
JUST OVER a week has passed since Irish holidaymaker John O'Neill was gunned down at Coco's Bar in Benalmádena.
His family have said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he has been described in the Irish Times as being a kind person with no criminal connections.
The Spanish National Police are searching for 40-year-old Darren O'Flaherty in connection with the shooting.
John O'Neill was holidaying with his wife and two children for the first time ever outside their native country. They had come to the Costa del Sol to attend a friend's wedding on the coast.
Many of the late night revellers in the area were witnesses to the crime and have come forward to give evidence about what took place in the early hours of last Wednesday.
According to the National Police the incident started in the toilets of the bar where there was a confrontation over a locked bathroom door between the alleged slayer and his 41-year-old victim. This led to a row in the bar between the British and Irish group who were celebrating a wedding.
When O'Flaherty left the Irish group thought the fracas was over. But he allegedly returned to the bar with a handgun some 30 minutes later, opening fire as he entered the bar terrace and premises. Only John O'Neill was fatally hit. He tried to escape the scene but collapsed at a nearby bus stop.
Málaga's public comment on prostitution controls closes
Associations applaud the initiative but are skeptical that action will be taken
By Dave Jamieson
THE PERIOD of public consultation on proposed new legislation which includes controls on prostitution in Málaga closed on Tuesday.
Businesses based on the city's industrial estates and local residents' associations are amongst those who submitted opinions to the town hall.
One of the worst affected areas is the Guadalhorce industrial estate and the local association representing such parks, Apoma, has proposed that the text specifically prohibits the offering, acceptance and exercising of prostitution in these places and in other public areas.
Apoma's president, Ana María López, said it was an excellent opportunity to provide a legal instrument which could include sanctions for such conduct, and made it clear that she believed the concept of open space in the city should include its industrial estates. She has also called for a ban on burning waste on bonfires in public areas as well as the end of illegal sales of fresh produce on the estates, especially, she alleged, by the proprietors of Chinese businesses.
In the city centre, the Alameda de Colón area is known to attract prostitutes and their clients. Residents have now called for more controls with demands for a total ban near schools, housing and public or commercial centres. Some said that, while they were not calling for it to be completely outlawed, it should only be permitted in zones which are far from residential areas where it does not create a problem for local people.
Several respondents pointed out that other Spanish cities have managed to control the issues raised by uncontrolled prostitution with fines for those caught in public places and question why Málaga cannot follow suit.
However, Apoma's Ana María López was quoted this week as commenting, "It's a question of wanting to do it."
24 arrested in break-up of Costa card fraud gang
Shop and business owners were recruited by the gang and given a 50 per cent share of the proceeds
By Oliver McIntyre
POLICE HAVE arrested 24 people linked with shops, restaurants, brothels and other establishments that allegedly colluded with bankcard falsifiers to make bogus charges. The Interior Ministry says the gang, centred in Alhaurín el Grande but operating throughout the Costa area, may have rung up as much as 3.5 million euros in fraudulent charges.
The investigation was launched in July of last year after officers received information pointing to the presence of an organised card-cloning gang in Alhaurín. In a first phase of the operation officers arrested seven alleged members of the cloning outfit, and collected information that allowed them to track down the businesses that worked with the gang and shared the profits on the bogus charges.
The 24 new arrests include the owners or managers of businesses ranging from designer clothes shops to brothels, from real estate agents to tobacconists.
Officials say the businesses, which were recruited by the cloners and were given a 50 per cent share of the proceeds, helped the gang get wireless GPRS card-swiping terminals so that they could perform the illicit operations from their car, without even having to go inside the establishment. The gang leader would drive his sports car around different towns, stopping near the partner businesses and ringing up charges.
David Cameron to holiday in Ronda
Both the British Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, will be in Spain this summer
By David Eade
FOLLOWING the excitement that the US President's wife, Michelle Obama, would be holidaying on the Costa del Sol with one of her daughters comes the news that the British Prime Minister will be in the Ronda area.
David Cameron and his wife Samantha are no strangers to the Serranía de Ronda having visited the area on past occasions. Just where they are staying and what they'll be doing has not been revealed but security will be heightened in the area to protect him and his family.
Cameron's past visits to the area went largely unreported by the Spanish media as he was then only the leader of the opposition. One place he was seen was at the Bar Alliolli in Estación de Jimera de Libar.
The British owner Paul Darwent said Cameron had been out walking with his wife and called in for a cold drink and a coffee.
He has invited the Prime Minister to the Fiesta de la Cerveza in October but Cameron politely declined because of official duties.
As Samantha Cameron is now heavily pregnant and given the high summer temperatures walking in the sun is an unlikely past time on this trip. It is rumoured that they will be staying with friends in the Gaucín area and are also expected to visit Ronda where they have dined previously at its internationally famous Tragabuches restaurant.
Guardia Civil officers rewarded for ticketing drivers
Union says 'bizarre' points-for-fines scheme pushes officers to issue more tickets
By Dave Jamieson
A TRADE union representing Guardia Civil officers has reacted angrily to the introduction of a points system to measure officers' efficiency - and that could push them to issue more tickets to drivers. The AUGC said on Saturday that the Interior Ministry's "bizarre" plan was "absolutely irresponsible."
The system being introduced this month will award points to an officer when a ticket is issued. While offering roadside assistance will win an officer just one point, ticketing a motorist for breaching road safety rules gains two points, while fines issued to drivers of heavy vehicles, buses and taxis will generate four points for the officer. Identifying a drunk driver is worth nine points.
The AUGC was highly critical of the scheme, arguing that some officers who wish to prove their effectiveness may be tempted to put more effort into chasing tickets than into their principal functions of maintaining road safety and helping motorists in trouble. The association, which represents the majority of Guardia Civil officers, claimed the ministry's decision was a reaction to a fall of 70 per cent in the number of tickets issued by its members during June, compared with the same month last year. The situation arose through the so-called ‘downed pens strike' when officers deliberately reduced the number of tickets issued as part of a campaign to improve their working conditions and salaries to bring them into line with other police forces.
The union said that in May and June, road accident deaths were down 12.9 per cent on the previous year, and claimed this demonstrates that the ministry's scheme is all about generating money, not reducing accidents, and is designed to dissuade officers from holding strikes or work stoppages.
However, the AUGC said that despite the ministry's "irresponsibility" officers would continue to "follow their conscience," because helping people is the priority "in whatever circumstances."
Spain is number two in EU for traffic death reduction
Road death toll slashed by 54 per cent in last decade
By Oliver McIntyre
SAY WHAT you will about Spanish drivers, but over the last decade Spain has reduced its traffic death rate by more than any other country in the European Union save Latvia, and now has a one of the lowest road fatality rates in the EU.
The statistics were released last week by the EC's Road Safety Commission as it outlined its strategies for halving road deaths throughout the EU by 2020.
Between 2001 and 2009 Spain slashed its traffic fatality rate by 54 per cent, from 136 per million inhabitants to 58. That puts it well below the EU average of 69 deaths per million inhabitants in 2009 (down 36 per cent from 2001), while just eight of the EU-27 member countries post lower rates.
The UK had the lowest road death figure, at 38 per million (down 35 per cent from 2001), followed by Sweden and the Netherlands, each at 39 per million. The worst countries were Greece and Romania, each with 130 deaths per million, followed by Poland, at 120 per million.
In 2009 there were more than 35,000 road deaths throughout the EU, "the equivalent of a medium-size town," said officials. Further, for every death it is estimated there are four permanently disabling injuries such as damage to the brain or spinal chord, plus 10 serious injuries, and 40 minor injuries. The estimated economic cost to society is 130 billion euros a year.
Tourist arrivals up despite Brits failing to show
Andalucía is only mainland Spain destination to see increase in visitors
By Oliver McIntyre
ANDALUCIA has posted a slight increase in foreign tourist arrivals during the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2009, despite the British market failing to resurge.
Andalucía, with a rise of 1.4 per cent to 3.35 million visitors, was the only region of mainland Spain to show an uptick in arrivals during the first half of the year, according to the figures released last week by Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce in its Frontur report. The only other Spanish destination to see a rise was the Canary Islands, with a jump of 2.8 per cent, while Spain as a whole recorded a drop of 1.8 per cent, to 23 million foreign arrivals.
However, the trend could be shifting as Andalucía posted small drop - 0.4 per cent - in June compared to the same month last year while the Spain-wide figure for the month was up 1.7 per cent.
Andalucía's tourism chief, Luciano Alonso, said the region's stronger performance in the first half of the year came thanks to increased arrivals from Germany and France, but he said he is confident the British market will ultimately come around as well, as British tourists have "always had a special relationship with Andalucía."
Spain-wide, British arrivals were down 12 per cent in the first half of the year compared to the same period of 2009.
Overall, Andalucía was the fourth most-visited region in Spain during the first six months of the year, attracting 14.5 per cent of all foreign tourists. It was behind Cataluña (5.8 million visitors), the Canary Islands (4.2 million) and the Balearic Islands (3.4 million).