News Round Up July

More millionaires – in spite of the credit crunch
MILLIONAIRES in Spain increased in number last year – despite the recession, says a study by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Capgemini.
Private individuals with capital exceeding one million US dollars (800,000 euros), not including their first residence, vehicles or consumer goods, reached 143,000 in 2009, representing a rise of 12.5 per cent.
This means that, although the rise in the number of rich people in Spain was lower than the worldwide figure, it was consistent with the European average for the year.
Wealthy people rose in percentage by over half in the USA, Japan and Germany, says the study.
Millionaire numbers went up y 53.5 per cent in these three countries.
The world total was an increase of 17.1 per cent in the number of well-off people, and an increase of 18.9 per cent of their wealth.
According to the survey, investors are more cautious at present due to the recession, and are more likely to place their funds outside their country of residence.
Expenditure on collectibles such as works of art, wine and classic cars has increased, but there has been less spending on luxury consumer goods in the past two years.
Fewer new homes built this year
THE number of homes being built from scratch fell by 34 per cent across Spain in the first quarter of this year, according to the ministry of housing.
They say just 31,198 houses were started, compared to 46,800 in the last quarter of 2009.
The majority of homes that developers began to build at the beginning of this year were destined for private buyers – 17,876 per cent – and the remainder were council-subsidised houses and flats aimed at young first-time buyers and those on low incomes.
And the number of homes being built that were finished in the first quarter of 2010 fell by 29 per cent to 73,684.
Most of the homes that were started – a total of 60.9 per cent – were found in Catalunya, Andalucía, Castilla-La Mancha and the Canary Islands, in that order.
Those that were finished by April this year were mainly found in Andalucía, the Comunidad Valenciana, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalunya and Galicia – these regions totalling 55.9 per cent.
ETA makes hoax bomb alert during Grand Prix week
A BOMB alert in Valencia during the Formula One Grand Prix week turned out to be a hoax, police confirm.
A call was made to the Basque newspaper Gara in the name of ETA – the separatist terrorists' usual practice – to warn that explosives were due to go off in four parts of the city, including three roads and the Madrid railway line.
But police spent two hours combing all the areas mentioned and say they did not find any trace of incendiary devices.
According to the caller, the bombs had been planted on the main V-30 road into the city, the CV-35 Llíria-Manises road, and the railway line from which the Madrid train leaves.
The call was signed off with a cry of, “Gora Euskadi Askatuta!” which means 'long live the free Basque Country'.
Picasso painting auctioned for 42 million at Christie's
AN early Picasso painting has just netted a whopping 42.1 million euros at Christie's auction in London.
The painting, The absinthe drinker, was produced during the time known as Pablo Picasso's 'blue period' – between 1901 and 1904 – when his works were predominantly in the colour blue and at a stage in his life when the artist was suffering from depression due to the suicide of a close friend.
It was sold during a modern art auction which included works by Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Magritte, Rodin and Kandinsky.
The money will be donated to the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, which bought the painting in 1995 from the Stralem Collection.
It was due to be sold at Christie's in New York in November 2006, but its auction was postponed due to an ownership dispute.
The painting features a friend whom Picasso had met in Barcelona sitting at a table with a large glass of absinthe, the tipple of choice among many artists and writers of the Belle Époque including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin, Vincent Van Gogh, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine.
From Alicante to Valencia in less than an hour and a half
THE long-awaited train line from Valencia to Alicante via the coast will link the two provincial capitals in less than an hour and a half, according to the regional minister for infrastructure, Mario Flores.
Although the plans have been approved, there is no concrete date as to when work will start – earlier this year, the government said it could be 12 years before building begins.
The trip from Valencia to Dénia, via Oliva and Gandia, would take 49 minutes, and from Dénia to Alicante, 38 minutes.
At present, the 'mini-train' from Dénia to Alicante takes two-and-a-quarter hours, and there is no rail connection from Dénia to Valencia or from Gandia to Alicante.
Oliva, situated between Dénia and Gandia, has no rail transport whatsoever.
Plans include direct links from Benidorm to Madrid, and trains running right up to Alicante airport.
Flores says he will 'not allow' the central government to put off the plans any longer, nor to allow state funding cuts aimed at reducing Spain's deficit to interfere with the rail project.
Woman who murdered daughter's rapist could have sentence halved
A WOMAN who threw petrol over her daughter's rapist and set him alight has had her prison sentenced halved on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Mari Carmen García Espinosa was jailed over the attack in 2005, when Antonio Cosme Velasco Soriano was out of prison on weekend leave and provoked her in a bar in Benejúzar, where his victim and her family live.
Velasco was sentenced in 1998 to seven years for the rape of Verónica, then 13.
And in 2005, his victim saw him in her father's local bar and warned her mother.
He was said to be hanging round in the bus stop outside the bar, where Verónica caught her bus every morning.
Upon seeing Mari Carmen, Velasco asked her, sarcastically, how her daughter was, and said, “do you remember me?”
He told her he would make sure she never forgot him.
Mari Carmen, who had been on anti-depressants and receiving psychiatric treatment since her daughter's attack, returned home and fetched a bottle of petrol, which she then poured over the rapist and set him on fire.
She said she had not intended to actually set light to him or to kill him, merely to frighten him into never returning to Benejúzar.
Velasco did not live in the town and had no reason to be there, said the victim's mother.
He was taken to La Fe hospital in Valencia with 60 per cent burns, and died 10 days later at the age of 69.
After the attack, Mari Carmen is said to have fled and been found wandering around Alicante port in a 'completely disoriented state'.
She has been out on probation since June 2006, and has been ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.
The initial sentence was fixed at nine-and-a-half years, since the prosecution said the accused was aware of the nature and quality of her actions.
But the mitigation of diminished responsibility means it could be cut to five-and-a-half years, of which she has already served 12 months before her lawyer was able to agree to her being let out on probation.
Spanish government denies compensation to airlines affected by ash cloud
SPAIN'S government has declared that it will not provide any compensation for airlines that lost business due to the volcanic ash cloud that led to a blanket flight cancellation in April.
Minister for public works, José Blanco, said many package travel companies were able to offset their losses caused by flights being grounded after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjällajøkull volcano, because hotel occupancy increased as a result of passengers being stranded.
Blanco was due to discuss the matter yesterday with the Council of European Transport Ministers.
Estimated losses to air companies across Europe following the volcanic eruption are around 42 million euros.
Pomegranate skin has treble the antioxidant properties of green tea
THE skin of a pomegranate contains nearly three times as many anti-oxidants as green tea or red wine, reveals a study by the Miguel Hernández University in Elche.
Pomegranates, a major source of vitamins C and E and minerals such as potassium, also contain polyphenols, which are said to help cleanse the body of toxins.
And its skin has nearly 10 times as many polyphenols as the edible part.
Luckily for those who do not fancy chewing on the tough, leathery hide of a pomegranate, there are capsules on the market which contain extracts of the skin, under the brand name of Granatum Plus.
Just one of these capsules is equivalent to drinking 100 millilitres of the juice of a pomegranate.
Spain is the largest pomegranate producer in Europe and most of the fruit comes from the Comunidad Valenciana, and in particular, Elche and surrounding areas.
More tax hikes 'cannot be ruled out'
FURTHER tax hikes could be on the cards when next year's annual budget is announced, warns minister for the economy and sub-vice president Elena Salgado.
Spain has been forced to take measures to cut its state deficit to six per cent by the end of 2011, which means pension funds, state benefits and public sector workers' wages are already set to be sliced.
Also, IVA went up from 16 to 18 per cent, and from seven to eight per cent on reduced-rate goods and services, as at yesterday.
Salgado – who was the driving force behind the 2006 anti-smoking law when she was minister for health – said each of Spain's autonomously-governed regions 'must take responsibility' for reducing the state's deficit.
Although tax reductions and increases come from the central government, each of Spain's 17 regions have a certain level of independence when it comes to financial matters.
But Salgado says this independence 'should go hand in hand' with the regions' responsibility for their decisions.
“If a regional president chooses to increase taxes, he or she is accountable to that region's citizens, and will be judged by the public on their decisions,” she said.
Comunidad Valenciana 'most racist region'
THE Comunidad Valenciana has the highest level of racism and xenophobia in the whole of Spain, reveals a report by the Movement Against Intolerance.
In the last year, 79 cases of racial violence, incitement or other anti-foreigner behaviour were reported – more than anywhere else in the country.
According to the Movement Against Intolerance, the recession is partly to blame for rocketing racism levels.
Unemployed Spaniards are campaigning for jobs to be given to natives before foreigners are even considered, with slogans painted on walls and buildings to the effect of 'Spanish people first, the others second'.
It means there has been an upsurge in extreme right-wing thinking and even fascism and neo-Nazism, particularly in the worst-hit areas in terms of unemployment among those regions with the highest population of foreigners.
Of the 79 reported cases, six included race-related murder.
In fact, the movement believes the true figures of incidences of racism could be as high as 3,000 in the past year, since many foreigners may not report an attack and those occurrences that are not technically criminal offences may never be heard about.
Hatched, matched and dispatched numbers fall
SPAIN'S birth rate fell by five per cent last year – the first time it has dropped in a decade.
Although the country historically has one of the lowest birth-rates in the westen world, it has been gradually rising since the millennium.
However, the average number of children per female inhabitant of childbearing age was 1.4 last year, compared to 1.46 in 2008.
But the death-rate also fell, this time by 0.7 per cent, making an average of 8.35 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants.
Marriage statistics were also down by 10.8 per cent last year, although in over a fifth of weddings celebrated, either one or both of the couple was a foreigner.
The falling birth-rate means Spain's 'natural' population growth reduced last year, its figures only being kept up by foreigners moving in.
Although non-Spanish residents make up 12 per cent of the country's population, they also accounted for 2.75 per cent of deaths in 2009.
And among expatriates who died last year, 70 per cent were EU citizens, mostly British or German and elderly.
The birth and marriage rate fall could be attributed to the recession, since couples may put off starting a family until they are in stable employment, and the cost of a wedding ceremony being prohibitive to couples who are out of work.
Nobody brought to justice over 330 of ETA's suspected terrorist attacks
NEARLY half the terrorist attacks believed to have been committed by Basque separatist cell ETA have been left unpunished in their 51-year history, according to the Foundation for Victims of Terrorism.
These extremists have carried out around 800 bombings in half a century, but in the case of some 330 of these, nobody has been brought to justice.
And there could be more, because the Foundation did not count the 72 attacks that took place prior to the Amnesty Law of 1977, when the bombings were 're-clocked' and counted again from scratch.
In most cases, the attacks have been left unpunished because the exact culprits have not been identified, or there is not sufficient proof to convict them.
And Article 132.2 of the Spanish Penal Code states that if the author of a murder has not been found and proven guilty within 20 years, no further action can be taken.
The Foundation for the Victims of Terrorism revealed that between 1978 – the year when the Amnesty Law first came into force – and 1990, before which any unsolved murders cannot be tried – a total of 562 people were killed in terrorist attacks believed to have been perpetrated by ETA.
The high court is currently looking into all unsolved bombings thought to be the work of the Basque fundamentalists in an attempt to identify and localise those responsible.
Midsummer night's massacre as 13 die in train tragedy
MIDSUMMER'S night ended in mass tragedy in Castelldefels (Barcelona) when 13 youths were killed and 14 others seriously injured on a railway track.
The group, who were mainly Colombian and Ecuadorian but lived in the area, had travelled to Castelldefels from Barcelona to join in the midnight bonfires and open-air discos on the beach.
But when they got off the train, they found that the subway to the other side of the platform was packed with pedestrians, so they decided to cross the railway line on foot.
It was at that moment when the high-speed Euromed train heading north from Alicante was travelling through Castelldefels, ploughing straight into the group of youngsters.
Both the president of the Generalitat of Catalunya, José Montilla, and minister for public works José Blanco, say the train station and line had all the necessary security measures in place as they had been renovated in October last year.
But the Ecuadorian Consul in Barcelona, Freddy Arellana, has blamed it on poor signalling and claimed that the level crossing had been shut for months, with no obvious way around it.
Investigations showed that the train driver made repeated announcements over the tannoy for the youths to get off the track, and braked as sharply as possible.
He tested negative for alcohol consumption, and the train was travelling at 139 kilometres per hour – well within the maximum permitted of 150 kilometres per hour.
At this distance, says the rail board, RENFE, a train would need a kilometre's braking room to be able to grind to a halt.
A 28-year-old girl is said to be in a critical condition in hospital and two other youths, aged 15 and 16, suffered severe bruising.
Electricity rate rise postponed
PLANNED hikes in electricity rates due to take effect this Thursday have been called off through a unanimous agreement in the central government.
Rates were set to rise by 7.5 per cent in a bid to help reduce the country's budget deficit, potentially making electricity prohibitively expensive for the average householder.
But both José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's cabinet and the opposition party, the PP, intend to meet and discuss the matter this coming week.
In the long term, they hope to promote the use of 'green' energy sources, which would cost less as well as being kinder to the environment.
Passport renewal office 'runs out of tickets' by 6.30am
WAITING lists for renewing expired identity cards and passports are set to reach up to two months this summer.
For anyone Spanish national whose ID card or passport has run out, the earliest appointment they will be able to get is August 23.
Many of them say they start queueing at 5.30am and still do not get seen, meaning they have to return on another day.
They have to take a numbered ticket when they reach the front of the queue, and then prepare for another long wait.
But once tickets run out, no further numbers are given.
Literally hundreds of people joining the queue before the sun is up say the numbered tickets are all gone by the time they get there.
Some say a sign is put up in the window saying there are no tickets left as early as 6.30am.
This means many Valencians will be unable to go on holiday this summer, since the earliest appointment they can get to renew their passport is the end of August, and even camping night after night on the street in front of the offices is no guarantee they will be attended to.


Road and rail overhaul for the Vall d'Albaida

A MAJOR trunk road is set to be built across the Vall d'Albaida, linking its two main towns.
The road will run from Albaida to Ontinyent along the Clariano river, linking up Aielo de Malferit and Bocairent.
New industrial estates will be built alongside it, making it a type of 'commercial boulevard' which is hoped to give the area an economic boost and create more jobs.
Public transport will also be improved and increased to help make the towns more accessible from elsewhere in the region.
Along with the new trunk road, regional government funds are to be invested in giving the Xàtiva-Ontinyent-Alcoi rail-link a major overhaul including widening the platforms, increasing track size and running more frequent trains which will link up to the high-speed inter-regional line that starts in Valencia.
Gandia throws out 68 foreigners for committing crimes
A WHOPPING 68 foreigners living in Gandia have been extradited in just six months for criminal behaviour, reveals mayor José Manuel Orengo.
Problems with squatting, vandalism and serious noise nuisance in rented apartments, and street-drinking are among the offences that could lead to non-EU citizens being thrown out of town, says Orengo.
But many of those deported were found to have been involved in some of the most dangerous mafia organisations in Europe.
“Immigrants who come to Gandia to work and live in harmony with everyone else are welcomed with open arms and full support, but those who commit crimes cannot stay,” the mayor stated this week.
He said immigrants who commit crimes will be immediately expelled from the town and normally, following the relevant legal processes, would face extradition to their country of origin.
But Orengo says that thanks to the sterling efforts of the Local and National Police and the Guardia Civil, the crime rate has fallen in Gandia by four per cent in the first half of this year.
This is the fifth consecutive year that crime has reduced in the town.
Blue flags handed out to best beaches
BEACHES in the Comunidad Valenciana have netted a total of 108 European blue flag awards this year alone.
The prestigious prize is given annually to the beaches that offer the best services and facilities and stand out for their cleanliness and safety.
During a presentation last week in Dénia's Hotel Los Ángeles, regional president Francisco Camps gave out blue flags to 96 beaches in the provinces of Castellón, Alicante and Valencia, and 12 ports and marinas.
In Dénia, the Les Bovetes and Marineta Casiana beaches have been given blue flags, as has the yacht club.
Also, the Granadella, La Grava and Arenal beaches in Jávea have received the award, as well as the  La Fossa, El Cantal Roig and L'Arenal-Bol beaches in Calpe.
Further down the coast, Benissa's La Fustera and Les Bassetes, and Teulada-Moraira's El Portet, L'Ampolla and Les Platgetes beaches have snapped up blue flags.
In the Marina Alta alone, 15 blue flags have been given out.
Police take DNA samples from 100 residents of village where woman raped and murdered
GUARDIA Civil officers have taken DNA samples from 100 residents in Pedralba in a bid to solve the year-long mystery of who raped and murdered 55-year-old Mari Carmen Ortiz.
The brutal attack on the woman in her own home rocked the village of just 2,800 inhabitants, and many now say they cross the road if they see a stranger on the pavement.
Others say they are frightened to leave their homes.
Police believe that the killer knew his victim, was aware she lived alone, and that he could be residing in Pedralba.
Anyone who may have had cause to go near her home – including family members, friends, acquaintances, tenants and even builders have been called forward to give a saliva sample.
Some of her friends and family say they did so willingly because 'we all have to cooperate if the crime is to be solved'.
Mari Carmen was said to have been brutally raped before being beaten to death in her house a year ago.
Her naked body was found badly bruised and battered, and blood was splattered up the walls.
To date, nobody has been arrested and there are no suspects in connection with her death.
Officers have not ruled out any possible motive for the killing. 


Countryside crimewave leads to increased police presence
POLICE have upped vigilance in rural areas around Peñíscola, Benicarló and Vinaròs following a crimewave hitting country dwellers.
A series of break-ins on homes and farms has caused panic to break out in the area.
At the end of May, two tractors valued at a total of more than 60,000 euros were stolden from a farm in Benicarló, leading members of the local farmers' union to push for more police presence.
“The crimewave means that fewer people sleep overnight on their farms, for their own safety, so there is even less surveillance in these areas,” said a spokesperson for the union.
Heads of the Guardia Civil and Local Police have called for all farm-dwellers and workers to report any strange activity to them.
Officers are also patrolling the streets of Benicarló this summer after a rise in the number of bike thefts was reported.
Vandellòs II nuclear station gets go-ahead for another 10 years
THE Vandellòs II nuclear power station has been given permission to renew its operations until 2020.
According to the Council for Nuclear Safety, the excellent running and maintenance of the centre, as well as its compliance with even the most demanding legal requirements and its general safety standards, have led to this decision.
Vandellòs II (Tarragona province) has been running since 1987 and will have been open for 33 years by the time its next licence expires.
It is managed by the Ascó-Vandellós Nuclear Association (ANAV) and is owned by electricity boards Endesa and Iberdrola.
Doctor refuses to attend to patient 'for speaking valenciano'
A PATIENT has taken action through the regional ombudsman after a doctor refused to attend to him because he was speaking in valenciano.
The man says he went to the San Blai health centre in Torrent (Valencia) and, when he began to explain his symptoms to the GP, he was told to speak in castellano.
Although the patient insisted he felt more comfortable relating his ailments in the vernacular, he claims the doctor left the surgery saying he was 'fed up with this rubbish' and that the patient 'would not be attended to by anyone'.
The centre manager was not in the building at the time, the patient says.
But the quality control centre covering the surgery told the ombudsman, José Cholbi, that the doctor 'did not at any point refuse to attend to' the patient, but offered him the opportunity to talk to another GP who was more comfortable understanding valenciano.
Additionally, the centre's management recognised that in any public institution, visitors and users have the right to use the vernacular and staff should also be prepared to address the person concerned in the same language.
The ombudsman has since spoken to the ministry of health to remind them that there should be 'no discrimination nor request for translation' if members of the public wish to speak to medical staff in valenciano.
Lleida and Reus – cheapest buses in Catalunya
REUS has the second-lowest bus fares in the whole of Catalunya, according to a survey.
The study examined the cost of internal bus routes in all towns and cities in the region of more than 100,000 inhabitants, of which the cheapest was Lleida, followed by Reus (Tarragona).
A one-way ticket in Reus costs 1.10 euros, which rises to 1.20 in Tarragona city, 1.25 euros in Girona and Terrassa, 1.30 euros in Sabadell and as much as 1.40 euros in major cities such as Barcelona.
The public transport councillor for Reus, José Magrazó, admitted he had had no idea that his town's buses were the second-cheapest in Catalunya.
“We knew we were offering the service at a good price, but we didn't realise this.
“Our one-way tickets are very cheap, but we also offer season tickets and bus passes, which are equally as good value for money,” Magrazó reveals.
A ten-trip ticket in Reus costs 6.15 euros, compared to 7.85 euros in Barcelona and a whopping 8.70 euros in Girona.
Lleida's continues to be the cheapest at six euros.
Bus fares have not gone up in Reus since 2006, explains Magrazó, and nor will they even now IVA has increased.
New A-7 connection is an 'accident waiting to happen'
DRIVERS have complained about the newly-built stretch of the A-7 between Mont-roig and L'Hospitalet after a fatal accident was reported earlier this month.
The road has only been open for a year, and a further 9.5 kilometres linking it to the N-340 past Vandellòs are still to be built.
Councillors from all three towns are working on a long list of problems with the new stretch of motorway to present to the ministry of public works.
Things came to a head on June 2 this year when a lorry broke down on the exit near Miami Platja after crashing into the back of a trailer, causing a kilometre-long tailback.
One person is said to have died in the accident, which regular users of the road say 'was always on the cards'.
They claim visibility at the L'Hospitalet exit is extremely poor, and the connection with the N-340 is dangerous.
Often, parts of the road are full of rubble or knocked-over cones, and a metal railing means it is difficult to see other cars coming.
Those who are not used to the road are more likely to commit potentially fatal mistakes, motorists say.
IVA rise 'set to cause confusion' as well as hardship
FOLLOWING the increase in IVA yesterday (Thursday, July 1), consumer associations are preparing themselves for a flood of complaints.
They are putting together a guide as to which goods and services will have increased in price.
IVA comes in three rates – reduced (formerly seven per cent); 'super-reduced' (four per cent), and the general rate of 16 per cent.
The reduced rate is now eight per cent, and the general rate is now 18 per cent.
According to the Spanish Consumers' Union (UCE), as well as having a negative impact on family spending, could lead to controversy when users have bought products or services just before July 1 and have to pay for them after this date.
The law dictates that the IVA rate which applies is the one valid at the time of the purchase, but if it is paid for in instalments or with one month's credit, the new IVA rate applies.
Otherwise, technically, anything charged after midnight on June 30 now attracts the new rate, meaning those who ate out on Wednesday night were in a rush to finish their desserts and get the bill before the clock struck the witching hour.
Utility bills will now carry the increased IVA rates, even where they relate to energy consumption prior to July 1.
However, estimates given for goods or services – such as package holidays or building works on a house – will be paid at the previous rate if they were issued before July 1, provided the IVA rate is stated on them or included in the price and this is not broken down.
But if only the net amount is quoted and followed by 'plus IVA', if this amount is not stipulated, the new rate will now apply.
If an estimate was dated prior to July 1 and accepted by the consumer, but the delivery of the goods or services was delayed until after then through no fault of the consumer's own, the previous IVA rate applies.
'Reduced rate' IVA applies to non-basic foodstuffs, housing, cultural activities such as films,  theatre productions or concerts, hotel and catering establishments, and health or social care.
The 'super-reduced' rate, the only one not to increase, applies to staple foodstuffs such as bread, fruit, eggs and milk, school books and medication.
And the general rate applies to all other products and services.
This said, many companies have chosen to bear the IVA rise themselves and not increase their prices.
They include the Inditex clothing chain – which includes Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear and Oysho – and Carrefour.



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