NEWS ROUND UP DECEMBER 2010

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Christmas fair open in
Valencia
VALENCIA'S Christmas fair is now open, with a world of fun and games for kids and plenty more for grown-ups.
From December 23 to January 6 – during the Christmas holidays – the fair will be open every day from noon to 14.00hrs and then after 17.00hrs.
Before the holidays start – and once they finish on January 7 through to the last day, January 24 - it will be open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings and on the two upcoming bank holidays.
Look out for 'children's day' on January 22, 23 and 24, with special discounted prices of one euro for kids and 1.50 euros for adults.
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More protests and strikes planned over mass unemployment
NEW strikes are afoot mid-month over labour reform proposals and general unemployment.
Two of Spain's major unions, the CCOO and the UGT, as well as the regional syndicate IV, intend to down tools on December 15 and 18.
Demonstrations will be held on the streets at 18.00hrs to protest over the government's poor efforts to create and keep jobs.
The unions recalled that there are 600,000 people unemployed in the Comunidad Valenciana alone, and a staggering quarter of a million have no income whatsoever because their dole money has run out.
Furthermore, 89 per cent of new job contracts created in the region are temporary, and 57 per cent of these are part-time.
The countrywide strike on September 29 this year 'brought no improvements', say unions, and if anything the situation has worsened.
They say they want to see the labour reform amended because it does not contribute to 'stemming the flow of redundancies', nor to reducing the number of workers in temporary jobs, nor does it 'modernise productivity'.
On the contrary, in the past month and a half, the number of firms making mass redundancies has increased as a result of the labour reform.
The unions want to see all unemployed people having some form of income to enable them to survive, plans to increase state retirement age scrapped, and collective working conditions agreements respected.
Redundancy and unemployment is 'the worst impediment possible' to the economy recovering, the unions stress.

Euribor rise increases mortgages by 21 euros a month
NOVEMBER'S increase in the Euribor will see the average mortgage rise by around 252 euros per year.
Last month closed with an interest rate across the Eurozone of 1.54 per cent – the highest it has seen since June 2009, meaning that variable-rate mortgages have gone up by 21 euros a month in the past year.
This is the fourth time rates have risen consecutively this year, with a year-on-year mortgage increase of 70 euros in August, 130 in September and around 200 in October. {mospagebreak}
The average Euribor figure for the month of November is 0.3 per cent higher than in the same month in 2009, when it stood at 1.231 per cent, and 0.05 per cent higher than October's 1.495 per cent.
For an average mortgage of 150,000 euros taken out in November 2009 over a 25-year term and a rate of 0.25 per cent above the Euribor, monthly payments will have gone up by 21 euros, or 252 in a year.
The European Central Bank (BCE) was due to meet this week to discuss the euro's health in light of State debts in Portugal and Spain.
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New rules for cyclists in Valencia
LOCAL Police have announced that their new campaign to fine cyclists for riding on pavements in Valencia will be put off until January.
Although they do not rule out a certain number of fines being handed out, they will not fully crack down on offenders until after the festive season.
Motorcycle and pushbike riders will be fined if they use pavements or parks to ride or park on, or use lamp-posts and trees to tie their bikes to.
They should use cycle lanes or roads only, and always move in the same direction as the traffic.
Neither can bikes be parked up against buildings, or obstruct windows or doors.
At night, cyclists and motorcyclists must wear reflective clothing and approved lights.
Some 70,000 fliers explaining the new bye-laws have been handed out, mainly in cycle shops.
Antonio Llópez, a member of the cycling association Valencia en Bici, stated last week that he was in agreement with the rule about not chaining bikes to trees, but did not approve of its being extended to lamp-posts.
“This is clearly just some whim of some councillor,” Llópez complains.
A protest is due to be held on December 12 to call for more cycle lanes to be built.

El Corte Inglés hosts massive Star Wars exhibition
A HUGE Star Wars exhibition with more than 1,000 figurines has been set up in the Corte Inglés department store on the Ademuz road in Valencia.
Some 300 square metres of the first floor now houses 'vintage' collectibles from the film, dating back to between 1977 and 1985, including the first-ever figurine produced by Kenner nearly 34 years ago.
Statues, replica spaceships, and many other items related to this legendary series of films are included in the exhibition, which marks the 30th anniversary of the première in Spain of The Emperor strikes back.
The exhibition, which can be seen free of charge until January 9, includes a number of prize pieces such as a reproduction of the Millennium Falcon – one of the most exclusive Star Wars collectibles in existence – and a 66-centimetre statue of Yoda, the great master of the Jedi order, as well as replicas of the 74-Z Speeder Bike and Biker Scout.
All items belong to collectors and have been officially recognised by Star Wars creator George Lucas.
Celebrity visitors to the exhibition will include Chewbacca and Padmé Amidala, the young queen of the Planet Nadoo.
The Star Wars films will be shown on the fourth floor of the department store at 11.30hrs and 18.00hrs every day.
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Spain will not meet its targets for mopping up State deficit next year, says Brussels
SPAIN will not be able to fulfil its pledge to reduce its State deficit to six per cent of its GNP in 2011, because the economy is not growing quickly enough, states the European Commission.
The EC's autumn report predicts that Spain's budget deficit will reach 6.4 per cent of its Gross National Product in 2011, a fall from the 9.3 per cent it presented in 2010.
According to the report, the country's GNP will only grow by 0.7 per cent over the next year – barely more than half of the government's predicted 1.3 per cent.
The Commission's predictions for Spain's growth coincide with those of the International Monetary Fund, which warns that the country's plans to mop up its deficit could go even more awry in 2012 if it does not take further measures.
The Commission predicts the deficit this year could be around 5.5 per cent of Spain's GNP, rather than the 4.4 per cent promised by the government.
Brussels believes unemployment will continue to rise until 2012, when it will begin to fall gradually as the results of the labour reform are seen.
But it says Spain needs to improve its competitiveness, its professionalism, its productivity and its innovation to be able to see any real difference in jobless figures.
Unemployment is the real impediment to recovery, says the Commission, since its threat and its reality means drastically-reduced consumer spending.
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Catalunya's new president 'will cut taxes'
CATALUNYA'S new regional government has announced its intentions to reduce taxes and cut down on the number of public figures in high places.
Following Artur Mas' landslide victory last Sunday, his party – the right-wing CiU – says it will 'move cautiously' in economic terms in order to 'create confidence' in small and medium-sized companies.
This confidence is 'vital' in order to create employment and beat the recession, says CiU's secretary-general, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida.
The new government also intends to scrap inheritance and succession tax, which it says has already been abolished in certain parts of Spain.
“It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be possible without everyone's best efforts,” Duran i Lleida said in an interview on Punto Radio just hours after his party won a record 62 seats in the regional elections.
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Major earthquake rocks
Valencia...or does it?
AN earthquake measuring eight on the Richter scale in the centre of Valencia has led to tunnels collapsing in the city and trapping numerous vehicles in the rubble.
Firefighters rushed to the scene to deal with the hundreds of injured motorists, together with the National and Local Police and the Red Cross.
The chaos seen on the Avenida de la Plata at 13.00hrs on Saturday could have been front-page news all over the world – had it not been for the small detail that it was a mere simulation for training purposes.
Earthquakes in this part of Spain are frequent, but usually minor and barely cause any damage beyond the occasional ornament falling off a shelf.
The most sensational in the last few years was in early spring in 2006, when a quake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale hit the small hamlet of Casas Bajas in the Rincón de Ademuz, about halfway between Valencia and Teruel.
There were no injuries, and limited property damage, but the quake caused a sensation among the 200 inhabitants.
Just three months previously, one of the village's most popular residents, an English woman, had lost her long battle with a terminal illness and most of her ex-neighbours believed she was making her presence felt in the municipality she regarded as her true home.
But security forces say they cannot rule out that, one day, an earthquake of a much greater magnitude may hit the area and cause chaos, injuries, death and destruction – so they would rather be prepared in advance.
The simulation in Valencia was carried out under the supervision of the production team from the Ciudad de la Luz film studios in Alicante.
Medical staff were called to deal with actors suffering from heart attacks, cerebral thromboses, and serious injuries.
This event formed part of a national Medical Emergency Conference at the Official College of Physicians in Valencia.

Mobile phones are the future of the web, says Google
THE future of the internet is in mobile telephones, claims Google Spain.
Already, some 4,500 million people use their handsets to access the internet worldwide, compared to some 1,800 million who do so via their computers.
And there are already some 500 different types of so-called 'smart-phones', claims the director-general of Google for Spain, Portugal and Turkey, Javier Rodríguez Zapatero – who is no relation to José Luis, Spain's president.
People prefer to use their mobiles to get on line, because it means they can do so from anywhere in the world, he said at a conference in Sevilla this weekend.
He adds that those companies that 'do not adapt' to such new technologies 'will have problems surviving in the future'.
The internet, says Rodríguez Zapatero, is one of the few business environments that has never failed to keep on growing and progressing, independently of the global recession.
But mobile telephones are of little use to those internet users who need to type long emails, given their tiny keyboard functions. 
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Water frozen in Valencia
VALENCIA city council has announced it will freeze water rates for 2011.
Alfonso Grau, first assistant of the mayoress, Rita Barberá, made this announcement following a motion proposed by Juan Ferrer of the socialist opposition, rejecting any move involving residents having to mop up the 16-million-euro deficit created by the water treatment plant company via their water bills.
As a result, this means the city's budget for 2011 comes to around 693 million euros – some 9.8 per cent less than that for 2010 – including a loan of 35 million euros later on in the year for investment purposes.
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Zapatero is 'either brave or stupid', says FT
BRITISH broadsheet, The Financial Times, has described Spain's president as 'either very brave or very stupid'.
Its reporters mocked José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's claims that international investors are 'still interested in Spain', and compared the country to Ireland, which has recently been forced to seek a multi-billion bail-out from the EU to rescue it from ruin.
“His bravery is remarkable,” says the FT. “The problem is that his comments raise the same question that he would rather not be raised: how vulnerable is Spain to the crisis in the Eurozone?.”
It adds that “some investors believe that Spain is Ireland, but with larger sums of money,” and has recalled that the recession in Spain is the result of its 'serious housing bubble'.
Quoting Barclays Capital, which claims Spain will need 73,000 million euros in the first four months of next year to clear its debts, the FT says: “Could Spanish banks face a similar problem [to that of Ireland]?”
The report goes on to say that although Greece, Portugal and Ireland are 'serious challenges', they 'are manageble', although a rescue plan for Spain is likely to reach 420,000 million euros – which would 'stretch almost to breaking point the financial capacity' of the European Union.
The FT says Zapatero will need to provide concrete evidence that Spain can stand on its own two feet, financially, before investors have enough confidence to put their money in its coffers. 

One-eighth of Spain's unsold homes found in Castellón, and a quarter in the region as a whole
THE province of Castellón has more empty homes on the market than Alicante and Valencia put together, according to a recent investigation by the Caixa bank.
According to figures, Spain has around 820,000 homes up for sale, which have been empty ever since they were built, of which 107,365 are in the Castellón province alone.
Here, the greatest increase of so-called 'housing stocks' has been seen over the last year.
Alicante has 56,275 unsold properties – some 78 more than in the first quarter of 2010 – whilst the Valencia province has 45,202, a fall of 411 over the course of the year.
Outside of the Comunidad Valenciana, the most unsold homes are in Barcelona, with 72,513 on the market, followed by Madrid at 68,295 and Murcia at 50,113.
They are closely followed by Málaga's 43,787 and Toledo's 42,856.
Provincial capitals, however, have just 1.97 per cent of their new homes up for sale, whilst this figure rises to more than five per cent in towns and villages of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
In fact, those towns with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents have around 52.6 per cent of their houses and 68.5 per cent of their flats awaiting sale.
But although the number of new mortgages taken out in the Comunidad Valenciana has fallen this year, the study reveals that demand is increasing in the housing market, with most activity seen among second-hand homes.
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Cocentaina-Muro d'Alcoi stretch of A-7 now open

PART of the motorway running inland from Alicante to Valencia has opened, bridging the 11.6-kilometre gap between Cocentaina and Muro d'Alcoi.
The rest of the new stretch of the A-7 will open before next summer, says minister of public works, José Blanco.
It now means that the inland districts of the Vall d'Albaida, L'Alcoià and El Comtat are finally connected by motorway, but the initial plans were not without their controversy in the beginning.
Hundreds of residents in the area protested against plans to build the new trunk road, saying it would destroy the Sierra Mariola nature reserve and would 'only benefit a handful of tourists from Madrid heading for Benidorm' rather than making the lives of local drivers easier.
This partly accounts for the increased cost in building the motorway, which is toll-free, since it had to be diverted to avoid flattening parts of green-belt countryside.
The road links up to the N-340 in Muro d'Alcoi and to the north of Alcoy, and CV-790 in Cocentaina, and the CV-700 in Alquería d'Asnar.

Car thief attempts to crash into helicopter during police chase
TWO robbers were arrested in Llíria on Friday following a spectacular police chase both by road and air, during which one of the suspects deliberately tried to crash his vehicle into a Guardia Civil helicopter.
He did not manage to do so, however, because the pilot took off just a split second before the van, whose path he was blocking, would have hit it.
Police were called out at around noon and instructed to pursue the suspects, who are said to have been fleeing the area in a Rénault Kangoo van and a Ford Escort, both of which they had just stolen.
Officers followed the vehicles by helicopter and then attempted to block their path by landing just in front of them.
The pursuit carried on until the car and the van reached the town centre of Llíria, at which point the men abandoned their vehicles in a supermarket car park and attempted to pass as customers at the store.
But they did not fool the police, who arrested them inside the shop.
Officers also seized both vehicles, which were found to have been stolen just hours previously.
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Criminal Code reform will reduce sentences for 250 jail inmates
THE Criminal Code reform will affect around 250 prisoners in the province of Alicante alone when it comes into force later this month.
One of the provisions in the law reform involves reducing maximum sentences for drug-dealing, manufacturing or cultivating from nine years to six years, but will increase them from nine to 12 years for drug-related offences committed by those belonging to organised gangs.
Changes to the Criminal Code can only be applied retroactively where they benefit the prisoner, meaning that an existing inmate's sentence can be reduced, but cannot be increased.
Neither will it affect prisoners who have served their time or criminals with suspended sentences.
The Criminal Code reform will make sentences for sexual offences much tougher, particularly when they are committed against minors or disabled victims, and also for corruption charges such as money-laundering or tax fraud.
It means that longer sentences could be applied to any of those holding public office who are found guilty in the so-called Brugal and Gürtel cases, two high-profile corruption investigations ongoing at present in the region.
The reform comes into force on December 23 this year.
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Fuel prices rocket in Castellón
PETROL prices have gone up yet again in Castellón and are now at their highest in two years.
They have increased by at least 33 cents per litre for unleaded and lead-replacement petrol.
Unleaded 95 is now 93.9 cents per litre, with lead-replacement at 105.2 cents.
The average cost per litre in the province – even on the cheapest forecourts – is around 93 cents per litre.
Already, Castellón has the ninth-highest prices in Spain.
But according to the EU's petrol bulletin, it is not the only province that has seen price hikes.
In just one week, the cost of unleaded 95 has gone up by 2.13 per cent, whilst diesel has increased by 2.71 per cent – bringin both to their highest prices since 2008.
This is largely because of rocketing crude oil prices, which reached 85 dollars this week and beat all records.
But petrol stations have little to do with the rising cost of fuel, since prices in Spain are state-controlled.
It means there is little point 'shopping around', since few bargains are to be found by filling up at different service stations.

Hotel in nature reserve 'illegal', say environmentalists
ALCALÀ de Xivert council is under investigation by the provincial courts over the alleged 'illegal'  construction of a hotel right in the heart of the Serra d'Irta nature reserve. Legal action was brought against the local authority by environmental pressure group, GECEN.
The regional government is also under fire for allowing the Hotel Villa Adelfos to be expanded.
GECEN claims that neither body had planning permission, trading or opening licences to be able to erect the hotel, a fact they say was known to both the council and the regional government of the Comunidad Valenciana.
They complain that both parties are attempting to 'mask their crime' by claiming that it is not a hotel, but a small, rural hotel and a 'religious residence'.
The building, which is still under construction next to a chapel, has a swimming pool, restaurant, car parks and various extensions.
GECEN has called for the structure to be demolished 'with immediate effect'.

Solar energy park work stopped by Bonelli's Eagles
WORK on a solar energy park is being held up because of a colony of Bonelli's Eagles nesting in the area.
The council of Tivissa has complained that the work has been held up after a report from the ministry of the environment blocked proceedings because of the nesting eagles.
Together with the park – which comprises 24 hectares of land between Vandellós and L'Ametllà de Mar – an investigation centre to be run by the Rovira i Virgili University is planned.
The entire project involves a budget of 32 million euros and is expected to create eight permanent jobs.
All regional government departments have approved the plans, except for the ministry of the environment.
In addition to a mating couple of Bonelli's Eagles – a rare species of bird of prey, of which only a few colonies remain in the country – part of the land set aside for the solar energy park is on protected green-belt land, says the ministry.
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Mercury emissions from factory 'within safe limits'
MERCURY emissions in the air from the Ercros factory in Flix are 'way above legal limits', claims an environmental pressure group.
The chemical company has called for 'calm' after an alarming report was released last week by Ecologists in Action, suggesting that the emissions of the toxic substance was up to 125 times the safe limit stipulated by the World Health Organisation.
Ercros stresses, however, that investigations have been carried out and that its emissions are 'way below' those stipulated by the Institute of Safety and Hygiene at Work, and that it works hard to ensure the mercury it spills out into the atmosphere is kept at as low a level as possible.
It says it has already managed to bring down its emissions by around 41 per cent in the past year.
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Invasive species of fish take over river Ebro
MORE foreign species of fish have been in the Ebro delta than native examples, potentially putting these in danger, say conservationists.
Of those aquatic creatures caught in the final stretch of the river, over 50 per cent are invasive species.
Work has already started on controlling the populations of foreign species to prevent native fish from dying out.
This involves catching as many fish as possible and putting the native species back in the water, but it means that the invasive creatures will perish as a result.
Conservationists have so far caught 27 species from the main body of the river Ebro and 22 from the canals running off it.
Amongst these is the Wels Catfish, or Silurus Glanis.
They have found examples of this fish measuring a whopping 2.3 metres in length, or around 7ft 7in.
The world record so far is 2.78 metres, or 9ft 3in.

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