News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Cautious optimism over low level of summer fires
Infoca has tackled 335 incidents this summer, half the average number of blazes
By David Eade
A CIGARETTE end tossed from a car or a pyromaniac at work could suddenly change the low level of summer fires in Andalucía this year.
The message from the regional government is clear. There is an extremely high risk of a major blaze, people should not lower their guard, even though the number of fires so far is less than half the normal annual average.
The director general of the regional government's Parks Department, Javier Madrid, has told the Efe news agency that the intensive winter and spring rains have maintained a high level of humidity in the Andalucía forests.
The high temperatures of July and August are causing a drying out effect and as they do so the risk of fires increases.
Another cause of forest and scrubland blazes are the dry storms.
Lightning without any accompanying rain has caused major damage in past years to the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas national parks.
Madrid stressed there had been no cut back in the Infoca specialist fire teams. Up to August 12 they had tackled 335 incidents but that was half the average over the last decade.
Take the ferry across the bay
A local business is jumping on the Gibraltar toll publicity band wagon and offering travellers a way to avoid the traffic jams
By David Eade
THE toll for entering or leaving Gibraltar proposed by the mayor of La Línea, Alejandro Sánchez, is still two months away but Transcoma, which operates the catamaran from Algeciras to the Rock, has jumped on the publicity bandwagon.
Transcoma is handing out leaflets offering a £5 return ticket on the catamaran service. The speedy ferry connects the Rock with Algeciras port and so completely by-passes the pending traffic chaos in La Línea.
While anybody living in La Línea, regardless of nationality, will be exempt from the toll charge it has still to be announced whether Gibraltarians will be charged or not.
There is also some doubt as to where the toll booths will be located. The original proposal was that traffic would be divided in to two lanes - toll and non-toll - as it approached the border with Gibraltar. Now there are indications that the toll will be collected as traffic leaves the Rock which would push any congestion across in to Gibraltar.
Meanwhile the Spanish, Andalucía, British and Gibraltar governments have all expressed their outright opposition to the mayor's toll plan and insist it is illegal under various laws. The likelihood is it will never happen but in the meantime travellers to and from the Rock can take advantage of the special catamaran offers.
Bullfight 'scandal' cancels Málaga corrida
Local vets who inspected the bulls on arrival rejected all the animals
By Dave Jamieson
UNPRECEDENTED events led to the cancellation of the second event of Málaga's bull-fighting calendar during the city's annual fair. In a situation described by El Pais as a "scandal", vets at La Malagueta bull ring rejected all the animals which had been provided for Saturday afternoon's corrida.
The president of the La Malagueta, Ana María Romero, decided to cancel the event after disagreements with representatives of the Salamanca livestock farm Rivera de Campocerrado who were contracted to provide bulls for the day.
Twelve arrived in Málaga on Thursday evening and the local veterinarians who inspect all bulls on arrival examined them, finally rejecting every one for a variety of reasons.
They reported that a number were displaying injuries, apparently received during their transportation to Málaga, while others were deemed to be unsuitable for use in the ring.
The owner of the farm was contacted but said he would not send any replacements from either his own herd or anyone else's.
The management of La Malagueta arranged for two bulls to be sent urgently from elsewhere, but these were also rejected by the vets.
At around 1pm, the day's events were cancelled and spectators offered their money back. Ticket holders were given four days to claim a refund during the box office opening hours.
The Salamanca bulls had earlier been inspected and approved by a government team chaired by Ana Maria Romero. La Malagueta later issued a brief statement blaming "governmental decisions" for the cancellation and apologising to fans for the turn of events.
Murky dealings of coast's town halls
Marbella has dropped 27 places on NGO's Spanish council 'transparency' listing and Fuengirola is placed last
By David Eade
THE NGO Transparencia Internacional (International Transparency) is not on the Partido Popular's (PP) Christmas card list here on the Costa del Sol.
Transparencia Internacional has already been threatened with legal action by the PP administration at Fuengirola town hall after it placed it in last place on its opaqueness list. Now PP controlled Marbella has also seen itself downgraded by 27 places.
As its name suggests TI grades administrations throughout the world on the openness of their management of their country, region or municipality.
Bilbao has been rated as the most transparent in Spain and Marbella now sits at 82 out of 110 - having dropped from 55. Vélez Málaga is in 52nd position and Mijas a little further down the list at 56. Málaga city, in eleventh place, fairs the best out of the province's towns that have been included.
British couple offer thousands of pounds to recover family jewellery stolen on the coast
By David Eade
IN early August Sue and Tony Caseldine visited the coast from the UK to attend a friend's wedding blessing and at the same time enjoy a relaxing holiday in the sun. However their trip was ruined when thieves made off with Sue's jewellery, much of it of great sentimental value. The couple are now offering a £5,000 reward for its recovery.
On Friday August 6 thieves struck at their rented villa in Calle de las Encinas in Calahonda. Sue and Tony discovered that necklaces, bracelets, rings and a watch had all disappeared.
The theft of many of these items left them upset but what devastated them was the lifting of pieces of great sentimental value. Amongst these were Sue's sapphire and diamond cluster engagement ring, a diamond half moon ring that fitted in front of it, Sue's late mother's diamond eternity ring and her sapphire and diamond lozenge shaped ring.
It is these latter pieces that cannot simply be replaced because they have great sentimental value. Which is why the couple are offering a reward of £5,000 for information leading to their recovery - a sum that is in excess of what the thief or thieves could sell them for.
The theft has been reported to the police in Fuengirola who were sympathetic but said "it happens".
Early morning explosion at Benalmádena restaurant
The violent detonation caused numerous residents to call to the 112 emergency services
By David Eade
A STRONG explosion occurred at the Restaurante Rincón del Mar in the early hours of last Friday morning. The National Police said major damage was done to the building but thankfully it was closed at the time and no one was injured.
The blast took place at 4.30am at the restaurant in Calle Infantes, close to the Sunset Beach Club. The area is one of Benalmádena Costa's densely populated tourist zones and the premises is surrounded by holiday apartments.
Guests were startled by the loud bang and collapsing debris and the 112 emergency service received numerous calls from alarmed local residents.
The fire brigade along with National and local police raced to the scene, which was later visited by forensic and bomb squad officers.
Investigators are keeping an open mind as to the cause of the explosion. They have also to establish whether the device was inside the building or adjacent to it.
Eyewitness say there was a small fire before the explosion.
David Bañasco, the head of the Benalmádena fire service, said the blast had not resulted in any fire but the damage to the building with doors and windows blown out, along with collapsed awnings and blinds, indicates the strength of the blast.
Air travel threat lifted
Air traffic controllers bow to pressure from the tourism sector and declare their decision as an 'exercise in responsibility'
By Dave Jamieson
SPAIN'S air traffic controllers have bowed to pressure from the tourism sector and lifted the threat of a strike during August. Their trade union was due to resume talks with airports operator AENA last night.
Tuesday evening's announcement by the USCA union has come as a major relief to airlines and hotel groups which had estimated that the planned stoppage would affect 690,000 passengers and generate losses of 40 million euros per day.
They had put pressure on the controllers to call off their action, as had Prime Minister Zapatero. Earlier in the day, he said a strike would produce effects which would be "more than negative".
A three-hour meeting of the USCA executive led to the decision which they described as an "exercise in responsibility" and which was immediately welcomed by AENA whose leaders had refused to talk further until the strike threat was lifted.
However, the possibility of action at some time in the future remains while the two sides continue to search for an agreement on the number of hours to be worked by controllers and the salaries which they will earn.
Andalucía mulls over drink and cigarettes 'health tax'
The Catalan government is also pressing for a similar tax
By David Eade
With the financial crisis biting hard in Spain the Andalucía government is looking for ways to reduce the deficit of its health service. It believes one way in which it can do this is by imposing a tax on alcohol and tobacco.
The regional Health Department head, María Jesús Montero, has been speaking openly about this course of action in recent days. The justification for taxing both of these categories is that drinking and smoking are the causes of many illnesses that have a drain on the resources of the health service.
She has signalled to the media that such an initiative would be interesting in political terms and Sra Montero believes the public would accept such a tax given the role that alcohol and tobacco plays in damaging the users' health.
The problem is that the taxes on these two categories of products do not go to the regional governments but to Madrid instead.
Indeed the levies are set on a national level so each region pays the same. However Montero did not believe this was a bar to considering the idea of a local tax as well as a national one.
Bloodiest weekend this year on Spanish roads
Two British children were killed in an accident near Burgos on Sunday
By David Eade and Dave Jamieson
SPAIN might be enjoying its annual August vacation but at least 26 families this week are mourning the loss of those who died in accidents on the nation's roads last weekend.
Indeed according to statistics issued by the Dirección General de Tráfico it was the bloodiest weekend so far this year.
According to the DGT there were 24 mortal accidents in which 26 people died and 30 were injured. Of course the death toll might rise as the deaths are taken as being at the time of the accident and does not include those who later die in hospital.
Eight of those who died were motorcyclists and seven pedestrians.
In the 24 accidents seven saw the vehicles leave the road which accounted for the pedestrians' deaths.
Ten were caused by the drivers being distracted and the others for various reasons.
Up till this weekend the traffic authorities were patting themselves on their backs as the overall number of road deaths this year has seen a major decrease.
Before August 8 a total of 991 people had died in road accidents in 2010 - a high enough figure but 174 less (or 15 per cent fewer) than in the same period of last year.
Málaga's annual party starts tomorrow
Singing, dancing, marionettes, exhibitions, sporting contests, eating and drinking, plus of course fireworks, are essential elements of the fair every year
By Dave Jamieson
THE CITY of Málaga's annual fair opens tomorrow night and continues for nine hot, noisy days. However, the town hall's decision to reduce this year's event duration by one day to save money has upset the hostelry sector.
In the late 15th century, the Town Hall agreed that Málaga should mark the restoration of the city by Catholic forces with an annual event to give thanks to God for the victory. For 700 years, their community had been under the control of Arabs who had invaded Iberia but on August 19, 1487, the city was finally overthrown and the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Fernando entered the city in triumph.
The first celebration of the event took place in 1491 with a modest parade which cost the authorities 557 maravedíes, a coin of the time which was superseded by the peseta in 1848. The following year, the date was fixed by the Bishop of Málaga who decreed that, for perpetuity, the city should mark the historical events on August 19, the feast of San Luis.
The 400th anniversary in 1887 was marked with a spectacular fair which included an historical pageant re-enacting Málaga's victory, horticultural exhibitions, literary contests, a bullfighting season, and concerts, and which became a definitive blueprint for later years. Singing, dancing, marionettes, exhibitions, sporting contests, eating and drinking, plus of course fireworks, have been essential elements of the fair every year. The other important constant is the bull-fighting season, which attracts top stars and makes Málaga an important date in Spain's annual tauromacy calendar.
Marbella gala brings out the stars
Actors Antonio Banderas and Eva Longoria organised the A-list event to raise funds for a number of charities
By David Eade
THE HOTEL Villa Padierna in Benahavís, where Michelle Obama stayed last week, hosted a star studded gala on Saturday night but without the USA's First Lady being present. She had spent the day in Ronda and opted to dine at a Marbella restaurant with friends rather than attend the Starlite Gala.
The stars on the night shone none less bright as Málaga's international film star Antonio Banderas attended with his actress wife, Melanie Griffith. They were joined by Eva Longoria, her husband Spurs basketball player Tony Parker, three times Wimbledon tennis champion Boris Becker, singer Manu Tenorio, Deeprak Chopra, model Adriana Sklenarikova Karembeu plus the great and good of Marbella society.
They were amongst the 500 guests who sat down to the gala dinner, another 200 were on the waiting list. They paid 800 euros for a gold entry and 1,000 euros for platinum with various foundations benefiting from their generosity including children's charities and the cancer care association Cudeca.
Cudeca issued a press release on Tuesday to say that the foundation is "wholeheartedly grateful to Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Stella del Carmen, Maria Bravo, Sandra García - Sanjuán, the trustees of the Foundation Tears and Favors, Vega Factory, Hotel Villapadierna....for all the support and affection given to Cudeca, at the spectacular gala."
"Since I've been in Marbella, you won't have seen me at many parties, but I've attended this one as it is so important to me", said Antonio as president of the Foundation Lagrimas y Favores, whose main objectives are to support the local culture and education via the University of Málaga (UMA) and also to help the Cudeca Cancer Care Hospice that provides palliative care for patients suffering from advanced cancer.
Border Toll Plan
La Línea mayor announces five-euro vehicle entry charge to Gibraltar
By David Eade
THE MAYOR of La Línea, Alejandro Sánchez (PP), followed his Monday announcement with a short press conference at which he gave very few details on his proposition although he did state that cars entering the Rock will not be charged more than five euros but that heavy lorries, especially those carrying construction materials, could be charged much higher.
In the coming days the traffic routes for vehicles waiting to cross the border will be changed to accommodate the toll booths. Visitor traffic will be channelled over council land where the money will be collected. The controversial toll charge will begin, the mayor says, in around 60 days time once all administrative proceedings had been carried out.
But who will pay? The mayor has already made it clear that residents of La Línea, regardless of their nationality, will be exempt. The same is thought to apply to Gibraltarians too - so only visitors would pay. However at the press conference, supposedly called to clarify his plans, he could not be tied down on whether Gibraltarians would pay or not.
Sánchez believes ten million cars enter Gibraltar every year meaning he can raise 50 million euros for his bankrupt town hall. He insists that his target is not Gibraltar but Madrid which does not give the municipality adequate funding. The socialist government has pointed out in recent days that La Línea has received 35 per cent more State cash that many towns of a similar size.
The placing of a toll at the border to Gibraltar, apart from causing traffic chaos, is illegal under EU law. However Sánchez, who prior to returning to La Línea spent 10 years working in Brussels on EU issues including transportation, remained adamant that the charge was legal, both in Spain and within Europe. He said it was "not a toll, it's a decongestion charge", and added that La Línea would fight to defend its right to implement it.
The mayor has also drawn fire from the local PSOE and the associations representing Spanish workers on the Rock who have accused him of acting like Franco and fear for their jobs.
She came, she saw, she conquered
Michelle Obama's visit has boosted tourist interest in the coast but her holiday has come under criticism back home
By David Eade
Go slow on the San Pedro underpass
The political battle over the project continues between the PP administration in Marbella and the PSOE government in Madrid
By David Eade
THE PROJECT to build the underpass on the A-7 through San Pedro de Alcántara may be reaching its conclusion but Marbella town hall insists the work force has been slashed.
Major infrastructure projects have been delayed or cut all over the country because of the economic crisis. Marbella council believes this has affected the San Pedro underpass and says there are only 20 workers and three machines in operation, 90 per cent less than the over 200 the contractor OHL has employed in recent weeks.
Once completed the underpass will eliminate the only traffic lights on the A7 from between Barcelona and Algeciras.
The deputy mayor for San Pedro, Miguel Troyano, insists that no work is being carried out inside the tunnel. However the Ministry of Public Works is adamant the underpass will be completed this year.
The underpass is only part of the project. Also included in the overall scheme are the surface roads and the urban park.
Marbella town hall has written to the minister of public works, José Blanco, to demand to be told when the entire project will be finished including the tunnel.
The underpass has long been a political battle between the PP administration in Marbella and the PSOE government in Madrid. This week the government's sub-delegate in Málaga, Hilario López Luna, along with the PSOE secretary in Marbella, José Bernal, insist the project is 70 per cent complete and is not suffering any delays.
Help us round up cable thieves, says town hall
The robberies have cost Alhaurín council over 200,000 euros since 2006
By Oliver McIntyre
FOLLOWNG a wave of costly electrical cable thefts, Alhaurín de la Torre town hall has issued a call to the public to help catch the culprits.
Officials say that so far this year thieves have stolen some 25 kilometres of cable from the municipal grid, hitting the town hall with nearly 80,000 euros in replacement costs.
"Replacing these cables ends up costing all Alhaurín residents money," said the town's councillor for public security, Remedios Carrillo.
Besides the monetary cost, the thefts can result in residents suffering power cuts on local streets. "Currently, as a result of the latest copper cable thefts, five streets in the El Romeral zone and on the way out of town toward Torrealquería-Zamorilla are without electricity," said the town hall.
The thieves, ever bolder, "are now acting in broad daylight, making repeat hits on the same streets, and not only in rural areas but also near the town centre and surroundings," said Juan José González, the councillor in charge of the municipal maintenance department.
Local authorities say the thefts are not necessarily carried out by organised gangs and that "anyone wearing blue work coveralls or a reflective vest, and maybe even putting cones out in the road, could be committing a robbery." They urge citizens to be on the lookout and to immediately report any suspicious activity.