News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Two British campaigners in the Axarquía to stand as councillors
By Dave Jamieson
TWO BRITISH members of an Axarquía group fighting the Junta de Andalucía in the row over illegally constructed homes are to stand as candidates in this spring's municipal elections. Their decision comes as the Partido Popular urged foreign nationals to participate in the vote.
The organisation Save Our Homes Axarquía (SOHA) announced last week that its president Phillip Smalley and press officer Gary Miles are to stand as Partido Andalucista candidates in the municipality of La Viñuela for the May 22 election. The group represents homeowners in the area who have discovered that some construction licences issued by town halls were later revoked by the regional government, rendering the properties illegal and threatening them with possible demolition.
Last year a former mayor of La Viñuela, one of the municipalities most affected by the Junta's threats, was banned from holding public office for over 15 years and fined 13,500 euros after being found guilty of issuing licences for building on land classified as unsuitable for development. Last month it was reported that Juan Millán could also face another six offences related to building licences issued for construction without the normal procedures being followed.
Briton launches campaign to feed the hungry
Mary Finlay seeks volunteers to help with La Línea food handouts
By David Eade
THE BORDER town of La Línea de la Concepción is in a mess. The town hall is bankrupt, municipal workers have not been paid, and some have to seek charity to put food on their tables. There are at least 10,000 unemployed and more not on the jobless list; many receive no benefit at all. The local social welfare office is in disarray and the shelter for the homeless has only just re-opened, so there are a large number of people living rough on the streets.
Step forward Mary Finlay, a long-time resident of San Roque. She has decided something has to be done to help these people. She told Costa del Sol News: "The intention is to start at least once a week and at night to take hot food and warm clothing to the homeless in La Línea. I had the luck to speak to a local policeman who also acts as a volunteer for Cáritas and he has given me a map showing where they doss down - mostly in the concrete bunkers and a few abandoned ruins, which usually have half their roofs gone so you can imagine the state they must be in with this weather."
Mary hopes to start this week and says she has been unable to do so before because of the trial in trying to find suitable food containers. "I have something now that is hopefully suitable and which was paid for by a friend, Carol Melnick, a teacher at Sotogrande School. Another lady, Christine Medley, has promised to help in making up soups and stews. Mark Zein from Guadalmina has generously offered his time to come and accompany me, which is great considering the distance and time of night."
Missing Amy's family launches new campaign
Parents will take search to a different Costa town on first day of each month
By Oliver McIntyre
ON THE eve of the third anniversary of her disappearance, the parents of missing Irish teenager Amy Fitzpatrick last week announced the launch of a new campaign to keep the case in the public eye.
Amy's mother, Audrey Fitzpatrick, and stepfather Dave Mahon said that beginning on February 1 they will visit a different town along the Costa on the first day of each month, distributing flyers and posters with Amy's photograph. During the campaign, which they have dubbed Amy's Day, they also hope to meet with local officials in the different towns.
Amy Fitzpatrick was 15 when she disappeared while walking home from a friend's house in Mijas Costa on the night of January 1, 2008.
Despite the passage of so much time, the family still holds out hope that Amy will be found. "The one thing we have left is hope," Mrs Fitzpatrick told Costa del Sol News.
She said the new campaign is the family's latest bid to make sure that the case is not forgotten and that members of the public remember Amy's face.
Mrs Fitzpatrick is adamant that Amy did not run away - as she says has been suggested in some media reports - and the family continues to agonise over what could have happened to her. "We go through every scenario every day," she said.
New penal code lets 400 inmates out of prison
Reform cracks down on violent crime but eases sentences for drug offences
By Oliver McIntyre
MORE THAN 400 inmates were released from prison last week after the new penal code took effect on Wednesday, stiffening sentences for many serious crimes but reducing prison terms for drug offenders and some other smaller-scale offences.
The new penal code, approved last summer, toughens up sentencing for child sex offences, terrorism and corruption among other serious or violent crimes, though does not go so far as to introduce life sentences, which some activist groups had sought.
Due to reduced penalties for drug-related offences, as well as for the street vending of pirated movies and music, and for some traffic offences, around 408 prisoners had received a release order by midday Thursday as cases were reviewed and the new sentencing guidelines applied.
The maximum sentence for small-scale drug dealing has been reduced to six years from the previous nine-year maximum, while kingpins of drug-trafficking networks face tougher sentences than before, up to a maximum of 18 years from the previous 13 and a half.
In the case of traffic offenders, the new penal code aims to reduce imprisonment, allowing judges to choose between prison sentences, community work or fines (but not a combination of fine and community work as was permitted before), as well as to permanently seize the driver's vehicle. Also, it is now a criminal offence for drivers to refuse to submit to a drug-detecting saliva test, punishable by a prison term of six months to a year plus a driving ban of one to four years.