News September edition

Primark opens in Castellón and Elche

PRIMARK opened for the first time in Castellón on Friday – the 17th branch in

Spain and the second in the Comunidad Valenciana after the one in Elche's L'Aljub shopping centre.


In addition to Castellón and Elche, the Irish budget clothing chain has stores in

Madrid, Murcia, A Coruña, Asturias, Zaragoza, Jerez, Algeciras and Barcelona.

Created in Dublin in 1969, Primark chose Spain as its first destination when it

decided to go global in 2006 after first winning the hearts of customers all over  

Ireland and the UK. It also has stores in Portugal, Holland, Germany and Belgium,      and employs over 30,000 people.

This year, it won the Shop Design of the Year award for its branch in Bristol              and Retailer of the Year in the Retail Week Awards. 

The new Castellón store, in the La Salera shopping centre, has created 153 new       jobs.

Car sales plummet in August

IVA hikes and lack of incentives has made new car sales drop to an historic low. In fact, this August, sales figures fell to those of 21 years ago. A total decrease of 23.8 per cent on last year's sales – with only 44,600 new car registrations – has caused confidence to plummet in the motor industry.

Whilst the year-on-year figure still shows an increase of 21.9 per cent, with nearly three-quarters of a million new registrations, sales in August have been the worst since the end of the 1980s.

With high unemployment, lack of job security and public funding cuts, the average consumer has far greater financial priorities than buying a new car – and the drop in sales seen last month is expected to continue for the rest of the year.

State funding cuts mean the previously-available Plan 2000E, which made the cost of buying a new car more affordable, the motor industry has lost around 600,000 sales in two years.

This said, corporate car sales were up by 17 per cent for non-rental companies, with firms buying more vehicles for use as company cars or for delivery use.

Seat was the most popular brand last month, with 3,677 new cars registered, followed by Citroën and Ford.

For the year as a whole, Seat, Volkswagen and Peugeot have been the most popular.

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Apple opens stores in Barcelona and Madrid

APPLE has opened its first-ever store in Barcelona, in the La Maquinista shopping centre.

It has a team of around 70 members of staff and sells over 100 iPads, iPhones, Macs and iPods, which customers can practice on before they buy.

Customers can also take part in practical workshops and one-to-one tuition, and also visit the so-called Genius Bar to gain free technical assistance and assessment.

Throughout the year, Apple will offer free courses for youngsters to learn how to create their own films and music.

Some 150 million people have already visited Apple shops this year in 11 countries: the UK, the USA, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada, Japan, China, Switzerland, Germany and France.

Another Apple shop is due to open in Madrid this Saturday.

 

Air-traffic controllers call for their contracts to be rescinded

AROUND 200 air-traffic controllers have called for airport governing body, AENA, to rescind their contracts.

They want to be compensated for the changes to their working conditions this February.

Spokesman for the air-traffic controllers in question, César Cabo, says the sector has been complaining about these conditions for the last six months.

This comes just after an agreement was reached between AENA and the unions in August, which included maximum annual hours of 1,670, and an average wage of 200,000 euros a year, to be reviewed in 2013.

The first agreement signed by air-traffic controllers was in 1999, and ran out in 2004.

Since then, it has been renewed pending new conditions being agreed.

It included average salaries of 375,000 euros a year and 1,200 working hours per year.

Some 1,900 air-traffic controllers work for AENA.

 

Ryanair leads market in Spanish flights

RYANAIR has become Spain's top airline after its passenger numbers increased by 32 per cent this year.

With 12.34 million customers, the Irish cheap flight company has surpassed state airline Iberia by more than half a million passengers.

With average one-way ticket prices of 35 euros, travellers will have saved a total of 2,500 million euros by the end of 2010 through using budget airlines rather than traditional carriers.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary predicts that the company will have transported 22 million passengers in and out of Spain by the end of this year.

Now that the airline has opened up a base in Málaga and Barcelona – a city that sees 400 flights a week land and take off from its main airport, El Prat – and with Sevilla also on the cards, the company is confident that the Spanish market will continue to expand.

O'Leary has also hinted at a return to Valencia airport, which is now only running a reduced schedule in contrast to its previous twice-daily flights to London Stansted, Rome Ciampino and other European airports.

The airline boss claims the cost of using Spanish airports is some 68 per cent higher than the European average.

He also criticised air-traffic controllers, calling them 'inefficient', and was quoted as saying: “They sit on their fat butts doing nothing when they should be working.

“And they get enormous and unjustifiable sums of money to provide a service that others could give at half the price.”

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 Mobile phone companies offer 'poor service' and 'wrong information'

MOBILE phone operators persistently give incorrect information to customers and offer a poor service, says a leading consumer association.

According to the OCU, some 12 per cent of complaints it receives from the general public relate to telephone companies, and 62 per cent of these concern mobile phone firms.

For research purposes, staff at the OCU called most of the main operators to ask simple questions.

One of these related to the cost of 902 numbers and calls abroad from mobile phones.

Yoigo, Vodafone, Euskaltel, Happy Móvil, Orange and Movistar all gave conflicting and confusing information, and some did not know the answers.

They also had incorrect information about internet coverage abroad  via mobile phone from every single company except for R-Móvil, and all companies besides Yoigo gave the wrong, confusing or simply no information about tariffs for internet use abroad.

OCU also rang major operators, pretending to be a client who had lost his or her PIN number.

Very few asked for any further information besides the customer's name and NIE or DNI number to check that they actually had the phone's legal owner on the telephone.

The consumer group says calls are not answered from start to finish by the same operator.

Customers who call have to go through a long list of options, which leads to a second and then a third list.

They are frequently passed to another department if they have more than one question.

In the case of some companies – such as Orange, Carrefour, Simyo and Movistar – the OCU workers were unable to get through as they were cut off after reaching the end of the list of options.

 

Mortgages set to rise as Euribor is on the up

AFTER 21 months of monthly mortgage repayments consistently falling, they are beginning to climb once again as the Euribor is starting to rise.

For this month, a variable-rate mortgage of 150,000 euros over a 25-year period with an average rate of 0.8 per cent above the Euribor will now be 651 euros a month rather than 645 euros.

And the Eurozone's interest rate is expected to continue to rise, with the price of money remaining at one per cent for the foreseeable future.

Economists do not expect to see a recurrence of the historic lows in interest rates between summer 2009 and spring 2010, a sign that the market is beginning to pick up.

The Euribor hit rock-bottom in March this year, falling to 1.215 per cent, but at the close of August it stood at 1.421 per cent.

But the Central Bank of Europe (BCE) is not expected to increase interest rates by much more until 2011.

 

Brazilian male prostitutes force-fed cocaine and Viagra to be able to work 24 hours a day

A GROUP of young Brazilian men duped into travelling to Spain with promises of lucrative work as models and dancers found themselves forced into sex slavery, drugged and locked up.

The boys were forced to consume Viagra and other illegal stimulant drugs so they could continue to provide sexual services 24 hours a day.

They were mostly from the Maranhao region in the northern Amazon part of Brazil, and aged in their 20s.

Although the majority were offered jobs as dancers or models, a few were aware they would be working as prostitutes – but had no idea under what conditions.

They had their passports confiscated and were kept prisoner in various flats, mostly in Palma de Mallorca but also in Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, and León.

The boys lived packed like sardines in tiny flats with poor sanitation and food, and were forced to take poppers, Viagra and cocaine to be able to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Their captors forced them to hand over half their wages, in addition to 200 euros a week for their accommodation.

They were also expected to pay back the costs of bringing them over to Spain out of their wages – sums that exceeded 4,000 euros.

National Police freed around 80 young men, who had been flown into Spain via French and Italian airports on flights paid for by the gang using cloned credit cards.

They had been placed in flats where clients would go to them for sex, or worked in brothels.

Around 14 people, including the ringleader who was based in Palma de Mallorca, have been arrested.

A number of women and transsexuals were also exploited in the same way, and have been set free.

 

Flat-rate mobile phone plans are 'dangerous', says Vodafone boss

VODAFONE has called flat-rate unlimited-call plans 'dangerous' and 'worrying'.

During a mobile phone conference at Santander's Menéndez y Pelayo University, Vodafone's Spanish president – Francisco Román – said the company was 'worried' about offering unlimited call times.

He said it is 'impossible' to stimulate demand when customers can talk as long as they like for a flat fee at any time of the day.

To this end, his opinion coincides with that of Telefónica, although the latter has said it will continue to offer flat-rate call-plans despite its reservations.

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Bike rally will save lives of children in the third world

VALENCIA'S Bicycle Day in aid of UNICEF is expected to be a huge success and a great chance for people to leave their cars at home, enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise.

Taking place on Sunday, September 19, to mark the following Tuesday's World Car-Free Day, people from Valencia and surrounding areas are being encouraged to get the whole family out on two wheels.

Starting at the El Real bridge on the Paseo de la Alameda – alongside the river Turia gardens – the bike rally is expected to attract around 10,000 people, just as it has in previous years.

The 10-kilometre ride will be an excellent chance to see the whole of the city, including taking a spin round the Formula One Grand Prix street circuit.

Along with the nominal registratoin fee – which can be paid at El Corte Inglés in either Valencia or Castellón – participants will have the chance to buy a UNICEF teddy bear.

The cost of the teddy bear will be enough to provide life-saving vaccinations for 22 children in the third world.

In fact, all proceeds from the event will go to this cause, allowing the children's welfare arm of the United Nations to inoculate kids in poorer countries against illnesses that, in the West, have been largely wiped out or can easily be treated.

For third world children, even common childhood illnesses such as mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough can be a death sentence due to the lack of proper medical facilities available, poor nutrition and living conditions, and scarcity of clean drinking water.

Valencia's Bicycle Day is now in its third year.

A WOMAN has been caught by police after holding up a bank branch with an enormous kitchen knife.

The accused, 35, burst into the unnamed bank in Valencia carrying a rubbish bag and a knife designed for slicing Serrano ham.

Brandishing the knife at the staff, she is reported to have shouted: “This is a hold-up!”

But she left the premises empty-handed when employees refused to give her any money.

The day before, she is said to have pulled the same stunt in the city's Abastos district, where a shopkeeper handed over the 85 euros in the till, fearing for his safety.

She was arrested this week on the C/ San José de Calasanz in Valencia.

The accused is said to have an existing criminal record.

 

Schools open for longer to give free extra classes

A TOTAL of 75 schools in the Comunidad Valenciana say they will increase opening hours to help working parents and offer more tuition.

During the academic year that starts next week, 38 schools in the province of Valencia, 21 in Alicante and 16 in Castellón will take part in an experimental programme that involves an extra hour's class for infant and primary schools and two hours for high schools and sixth forms.

The extra time will be used to give remedial and reinforcement classes, mainly in core subjects, foreign languages, professional and vocational training, and subjects for Bachillerato (Spain's answer to A-levels).

For infant schools, the extra lessons will involve additional tuition on reading and writing, whilst primary schools will concentrate mainly on core subjects, music and reading.

These extra hours could also be used to give training on leading a healthier lifestyle, and on sporting activities.

The aim is to provide extra education for children free of charge – a service that many parents struggle to pay for in private academies – and to ensure they are better educated all round.

It is also aimed at cutting the numbers of pupils who leave school at 16 and do not continue their formal education.

Evening and Saturday classes and Easter and summer schools in addition to mainstream compulsory education are extremely common in Spain, with the majority of parents investing hundreds of euros every month to send their children to after-school classes.

The most popular tend to be English, maths, computer studies, sports and music.

 

Comunidad Valenciana's healthcare 'worst in Spain'

HEALTHCARE in the Comunidad Valenciana is among the worst in Spain, according to pressure group FADSP.

According to its spokesman, Marciano Sánchez Bayle, the Canary Islands, Galicia, Madrid and the Comunidad Valenciana offer the poorest standards of medical care in the country.

But the Valencian regional health ministry says it has 'serious doubts' about the findings in the report, conducted by the Federation of Associations for the Defence of Public Healthcare (FADSP), saying it 'is not of an official nature' and 'every year, PP-governed regions come out the worst'.

FADSP's report points at lack of state funding for the Valencia region's health service, but the ministry of health says inhabitants gave an average of 6.45 out of 10 for standards of care – some 0.1 above the typical national figure.

They also claim two-thirds say they were attended to quickly in accident and emergency and that 77.9 praised the service they got in general from medical staff.

But FADSP says the region has one of the lowest figures of investment per capita in healthcare, and an average of only 2.69 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants.

They also say that the average scoring for service received was just 4.45 out of 10 – compared to around 7.5 for Navarra, which came out on top.

Healthcare standards vary by region and even by town, with residents in the Marina Alta (northern Alicante province) saying they have been pleasantly surprised by improvements in service since the new district hospital opened in Dénia.

Other hospitals that have been praised include Valencia's La Fe and Alzira's Hospital La Ribera.

But Gandia hospital continues to get bad press, with patients claiming they are dismissed, overlooked, and treated as an inconvenience by 'rude, unfriendly and unhelpful' staff.

Whilst most people are happy with the service received from their local GP, hospitals are less-favourably regarded with many users saying that they 'treat the illness, not the patient'.

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Valencia province ablaze

FLAMES are licking almost every corner of the province of Valencia as forest fires that started early this week continue to burn with a vengeance.

Thought to be the work of arsonists, the inferno sweeping across the south of the province shows no signs of abating and has led to smoke-clouded skies within a 30-kilometre radius of each of the focal points of the fires.

The worst to date have been two fires that started almost simultaneously in Bocairent and Ontinyent.

All homes outside the main hub of the town in Ontinyent were evacuated on Monday night, with many people's houses just inches from the flames.

The blaze looked set to destroy everything their occupants owned, but the wind changed in the early hours of Tuesday morning, giving them a temporary reprieve.

Further south, Simat de la Valldigna has turned into a raging inferno with a massive column of smoke blocking out the sun, and even the flames being visible from as far away as Oliva, at a distance of over 30 kilometres.

Throughout the whole of Gandia, the sky resembled a dark and stormy night from mid-afternoon onwards on Tuesday due to the sheer volume of smoke.

Inland towns and villages between Gandia, Ontinyent and Alfafara are literally surrounded by a wall of fire.

Over 500 members of the military, as well as over 30 helicopters and hydroplanes from as far away as Castilla-La Mancha, Murcia and Catalunya have been brought in to bring the flames under control.

Emergency services have been working tirelessly and putting their lives at risk since Monday, and at the time of going to press the flames continued to sweep across the province.

 

 


Region accounts for a quarter of most dangerous criminals in Spain

ABOUT a quarter of Spain's most dangerous criminals are based in the Comunidad Valenciana, says a worrying report by prison syndicate ACAIP.

Jails in the region include 15 inmates classed as first-degree criminals – a classification that is given to the most difficult or dangerous prisoners.

Of these, 10 are held in Picassent prison, representing 16 per cent of Spain's most dangerous inmates.

Around 88 male prisoners have caused 'serious' incidents whilst in prison, such as kidnaps, physical abuse of other inmates and of staff, and even murders.

About 70 per cent of the region's prisoners are considered 'normal' in terms of their danger level, and some 15 per cent are allowed out on day-leave, only returning to the jail to sleep at night.

A total of 93 per cent of the region's inmates – or 7,575 – are men, compared with 607 women.

A total of 78 per cent are in jail serving a sentence, whilst the remainder are being held behind bars as a preventive measure.

About half of all inmates are re-offenders, and the number of these in the prisons in Albocàsser and Picassent are above the national average – suggesting that those held in these jails are 'especially difficult', says ACAIP.

 

Self-employed numbers fall dramatically in August

THE number of self-employed people fell dramatically in the Comunidad Valenciana this August, with only 329,519 left.

In fact, a total of 67 a day closed their door last month, with numbers falling by a terrifying 2,012 in the region alone.

According to Rafael Pardo, spokesman for the regional branch of the Association for Self-Employed Workers (ATA), this situation 'shows that the usual problems for the self-employed are far from being resolved'.

This includes the cost of paying their monthly stamp – something that is paid on workers' behalf if they work for someone else – and lack of any kind of dole money if they lose their work.

Other major problems include difficulties with accessing credit or other forms of finance, the fall in consumer spending and problems with making repayments.

 

Vilamarxant dam 'a priority' before floods occur

VALENCIA'S mayoress is clamouring for the dam in Vilamarxant to be built to prevent major floods during the rainy season next month.

Rita Barberá has joined forces with councillors from Ribarroja and Vilamarxant to push for the new dam to be built as soon as possible.

“There's no point in having the city prepared for flooding, if the rest of the towns in the area do not have their infrastructures in perfect conditions,” stated Barberá.

In Valencia, there are 1,252 kilometres of rainwater collectors, 56,000 wells and 71,000 gutters in the street, meaning the city is in optimum conditions to handle the heavy rain that normally puts in an appearance in October.

Local Police officers will also inspect balconies, window-boxes and façades in the city to prevent anything falling and causing danger to passers-by when the rainfall occurs.

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Concert in Castellón to fund brave little Nico's treatment

A CHARITY concert on September 19 in Castellón hopes to raise much-needed funds to treat a little boy who is suffering from a rare form of cancer.

Nico, from Alcossebre, urgently needs surgery and follow-up treatment in the USA, since the type of care he requires is not available in Spain.

This said, top medics from Madrid have been in talks with the boy's parents about sourcing in the drugs and techniques necessary to save his life.

Either way, Nico's mum and dad are looking at a hefty bill to be able to save their son.

Their fund-raising efforts have been heavily supported by local people, and the latest move in the campaign to amass the money for Nico's treatment is a huge concert in the Auditorium and Congress centre in Castellón city, featuring top local bands.

Heading up the night's repertoire is Santiago Auserón (or Juan Perro), followed by Los Perros del Boogie, Los Despeinados and Limbothèque.

Tickets cost 20 euros and are available from the venue itself, where the box office is open from Tuesday to Friday, 08.30hrs to 13.30hrs and from 17.00hrs to 19.00hrs.

They can also be purchased from El Corte Inglés, Castellón theatre, or on the internet via Servientrada.

A website, www.ayudaparanico.com, gives various channels for providing donations to help the brave little boy back to recovery

 

Woman dies in sea after being hit by boat

A WOMAN swimming in the sea off the beach in Salou has been killed after she was hit by a passing raft.

The victim, who is said to be young but whose identity has not been revealed, was swimming off the Playa Llarga at around 17.02hrs sometime over the weekend.

Emergency services are unsure whether she had ventured outside the area cordoned off for bathers, or whether the captain of the boat had committed a fatal error.

But witness statements suggest the former is the more likely

Guardia Civil and Coastguard services took her to the port of Cambrils after her body was found floating in the water, at the request of the judge in Reus handling the case.

 

Cable thieves leave motorway without speed cameras

THE theft of a massive amount of wiring on the AP-7 left the entire motorway with no speed cameras this weekend.

Cable theft has been rife for the last three years or so, due to increasing values of copper, meaning the culprits can sell the inner wiring for phenomenal amounts of money.

Copper can fetch five euros a kilo on the black market.

And this summer, a staggering 14 kilometres of electrical wiring has been stolen, at a value of more than a quarter of a million euros.

This weekend, the AP-7 between Castellón and Tarragona had no working speed cameras due to a mass theft, and parts of the N-340 were affected in the same way.

It meant that the ministry of traffic was unable to catch people speeding or committing other infractions.

But also, information screens – warning drivers of accidents or roadworks up ahead, blocked carriageways or poor driving conditions – were not working.

Additionally, during Benicàssim's recent reggae festival, digital screens giving directions were unable to be posted.

AUMAR, the company responsible for maintaining the Mediterranean stretch of the motorway as far down as Alicante, says its toll booths, however, were working correctly and that they had not suffered a single cable theft all summer.

This situation, though, is nothing new. In 2006, thieves made off with enough wiring on the A-3 between Valencia and Madrid and the V-30 Valencia ringroad to stop about 15 speed cameras working.

 

Bull-runs leave four seriously injured in L'Alcora

FOUR people have been injured in just two days of bull-runs in L'Alcora (Castellón).

Less than ten minutes after the start of the first bous al carrer event of the day on Friday, two youths from the Vall d'Uixò were gored.

A 23-year-old man suffered a broken arm, bruised chest and possible fractured rib, and was rushed to Castellón General Hospital.

Almost immediately afterwards, a 20-year-old man sustained minor injuries to his leg.

And the previous day, a man from Onda and another from L'Alcora were also seriously hurt when bulls charged at them.

The most seriously-injured was a man of 29 years old from L'Alcora, the day before, who was gored in his left arm and had to undergo emergency surgery in the city hospital.

At the same time, a 45-year-old man from Onda was gored in the back of his leg and knocked over by a charging bull.

For bull-runs, L'Alcora has three ambulances on duty, together with two doctors and a team of nurses – and safety measures had been reinforced this year.

Spectators complained that the show was suspended for three-quarters of an hour whilst a doctor accompanied one of the injured parties to hospital, but councillor for fiestas, Gregoria Arriaza, hit out at their attitude.

“The most important thing is human life. What would you think if this had been a member of your family? Wouldn't you like the doctor to go with them if they were injured to ensure they were treated properly?” Stormed Arriaza.

 

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