News Round-Up February

British and Spanish suspects in luxury car theft racket
THREE British men and a Spaniard have been arrested on various parts of the Costa Blanca accused of stealing top-of-the-range cars in the UK and Germany for sale in Spain.
The British suspects, aged between 30 and 44, were caught in Albir, the beach area of L'Alfàs del Pi, when they were driving in an Audi A-4 cabriolet bearing fake number plates.
The car showed up on the HPI register as hving been stolen in Kent, UK, in 2006.
Next, National Police arrested a 32-year-old Spaniard when they caught him at Alicante port driving a Volkswagen Passat.
This was said to have an engine part in it belonging to another car of the same make and model which had been stolen from Germany.
Interpol had both cars listed on its database.


Residents under demolition order storm council meeting
RESIDENTS under threat of losing their properties in the outskirts of Ontinyent accused the mayoress of 'deceit' at a council meeting last week.
The meeting ended up lasting five hours, and those present said: “You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.”
A demolition order hanging over the houses of those affected had been suspended for a year, but the year is now up and they were hoping for the moratorium to be extended.
They said mayoress Lina Insa and the councillor for town planning, Filiberto Tortosa, had 'deceived' them by saying that they would find a 'quick and fair' solution to the problem.
“What is the solution? A fine and demolition of our homes?” The residents asked at the meeting.
They also condemned the fact that their comments were 'censored' on the local television station, TVO, when they called the local government 'incompetent' and likened its promises of a 'solution' to those of the repairs to the Sant Vicent bridge and the opening of a new hospital – neither of which have come to fruition.
Finally, a further year's moratorium was given on the demoltions, whilst Insa stressed that the solution 'had to be for everyone' and 'had to be legal'.


'Snow' causes chaos on Costa Blanca roads
A RARE sighting of snow in the Marina Alta area on the last day of January not only led to residents rushing for their cameras, but also caused chaos on the roads.
But although it appeared to be snow, the white stuff was actually the result of a severe overnight hailstorm which left several inches of ice on the ground.
One woman from Dénia said her neighbour's conservatory collapsed altogether under the weight and force of the hailstones.
In Orba and Beniarbeig, two main roads into and out of the towns were blocked altogether for most of the morning.
And in Ondara, ice and hailstones on the road caused a 10-car pile-up involving 18 people on the AP-7 at around 09.30hrs.
Despite the spectacular nature of the crash, which started with a rear shunt that led to a domino effect and damage to 10 vehicles, there were no fatalities and only three people suffered minor injuries.
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One in four Valencians are overweight or have high blood pressure
OVER half the population of the Comunidad Valenciana has high levels of cholesterol, whilst excess body weight and high blood pressure are common health problems, says a study by pharmaceutical group Pfizer.
A total of 38 per cent of Valencians are overweight, and a quarter of the region's population are clinically obese, says the research.
And 43.7 per cent suffer from high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, heart problems and even brain haemorrhages.
Experts behind the study say the definition of 'obesity' falls into two categories.
The first is when a woman's waist measurement is 80cm (32”) or more and for a man, 94cm (38”) or more.
The second, and more serious – which can be life-threatening – relates to women with a waist measurement of 88cm (36”) and men with a waist of 102cm (41”).
Those who fall into these categories are at a much higher risk of heart problems, joints wearing out, and diabetes.
Research shows that 14 per cent of the region's population suffers from diabetes, and that the number of sufferers rises with age.
In the 30-45 age-group, three per cent have been diagnosed with the condition, compared to 30 per cent in the over-60s.
Additionally, the survey shows that 30 per cent of Valencians are habitual smokers.


Jobless figures hit 20.33 per cent with 4.7 million on the dole
SPAIN'S unemployment rate has hit 20.33 per cent – the highest since 1997.
This translates to a total of nearly 4.7 million people on the dole, with a further 370,000 – or 8.5 per cent – increase in the number of people signing on since 2009, which at the time was thought to be one of Spain's worst years for unemployment.
This means 2010 has been the fourth year running in which jobless figures have risen, and the number of those seeking work is now the highest in Spain's history.
Although 1997 saw unemployment figures of 20.72 per cent, the population was lower, meaning fewer people signing on.
This said, the number of jobs which were destroyed in 2010 was five times lower than in 2009 – but many of those who have lost their jobs since 2007 are still seeking work.
In 2009, some 1.21 million jobs were destroyed – double the figure seen in 2008.
Northern regions, such as Aragón, Asturias, Galicia and Cantabria, saw the highest rises in the number of jobseekers last year.
Many other regions now have unemployment figures higher than the national average, including Murcia, Andalucía, Madrid, the Balearic Islands, Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Navarra and La Rioja.
Rises in unemployment were seen in Catalunya and the Canary Islands, but less than the national average.
The only regions where jobless figures did not increase last year were the Comunidad Valenciana and the Basque Country.
In terms of numbers of people, those with the highest unemployment figures now are the regions of Murcia, Andalucía, the Canary Islands, Extremadura and the two Spanish-owned cities on the northern coast of Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla.


Euribor reaches all-time high
THE Euribor has reached its highest level in 18 months, having closed last month at 1.625 per cent.
This means a yearly average of 1.545, the highest since the middle of 2009.
Variable-rate mortgages will now increase by around 20 euros a month, or 250 euros a year.
This time last year, the Eurozone's interest rate – which is used to calculate mortgages and investment interest in countries which use the euro as currency – was just 1.232 per cent, but has continued to rise ever since.
Economists believe the rate will stay in region of 1.5 to 1.6 per cent this year, provided the Central European Bank (BCE) keeps its own interest rates stable.


Strong euro has positive effect on Spanish stock market
THE increasing strength of the euro is doing little to help the finances of those with sterling pensions, but the Spanish stock market is said to be flourishing as a result.
Since the beginning of 2011, the euro is already up four per cent against the dollar, having gone from 1.29 dollars to the euro to 1.37.
Economists suspect this trend will continue in the short-term at least, but believes the European monetary authorities will try to avoid a sharp rise in inflation if they can avoid it.
They say the euro could rise to 1.4282 dollars, or even as high as 1.45, and that the US dollar needs to be weaker in order to become more competitive outside its borders.
The debt crisis in the Eurozone is gradually becoming less serious, they say, and should not worsen unless there is a severe rise in inflation or interest rates.
However, they believe a strong euro could make EU countries less competitive abroad and says the local economy begins to suffer once the euro goes above 1.40 US dollars.
For the present, say economy experts, the safest investments are the finance, leisure, consumer goods and small retail sectors, since they are likely to be more stable.


National child porn racket uncovered
A TOTAL of 12 people have been arrested and a further eight taken in for questioning over a child internet porn racket, National Police reveal.
They raided 20 homes around Spain in two major investigations, and have so far seized three computers, 25 hard drives, and nearly 200 CDs and DVDs bearing pornographic material featuring children.
Officers opened an inquiry into the case in June 2009, leading to the arrest of four people at their homes in Valencia, Castellón, Málaga and Barcelona.
Later probes led to a further five suspects being detained in Valencia, Murcia, Málaga, Asturias and the Spanish-owned city of Ceuta on the northern coast of Morocco.
More recently, eleven properties were raided in Tenerife, Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, Murcia, Sevilla and Almería and further arrests made.
Another 23 hard drives, a pen-drive, and 145 CDs and DVDs bearing child pornography were confiscated.
The gang is thought to have been involved in buying and selling the videos over the internet.


Internet and mobile phone industry to become second-largest in Spain
TELECOMMUNICATIONS companies expect to make a fortune by expanding their services thanks to futuristic new technology coming Spain's way later this year.
A radio-electric spectrum is expected to be assigned to Spain by the second quarter of 2011, which is predicted to lead to dramatic improvements in telephone and internet connections.
The European Commission estimates that the total value of services provided within the EU via radio-electric spectra at present is around 300,000 million euros, or 2.5 per cent of its GDP.
For Spain, it will mean 'refarming' of broadband connections of 900 and 1,800MHz – which translates to much faster services - and will provide coverage for the rapidly-increasing market of SmartPhones – such as iPhones and Blackberries – laptop computers with internet connection, pocket computers and e-books.
According to the ministry of industry, internet via mobile phone has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in Spain, turning over 22,500 million euros in 2009 and showing growth of 25 per cent in two years.
Having trebled since 2003, the telecommunications industry is expected to become Spain's second-largest, beaten only by tourism, within the next 15 years.


Motorway speed cameras will clock drivers travelling at more than 135 kilometres per hour
SPEED cameras are set to nail drivers at slower paces after having been adjusted by the DGT.
The Dirección General de Tráfico – the government's road traffic department – says all speed cameras have a margin for error because the kilometre counters on cars are not always entirely accurate.
Until now, radars were not activated on motorways until drivers passed them at 140 kilometres per hour in a 120-kilometre limit.
But now, this margin has been reduced to 135 kilometres per hour.
In the meantime, a nationwide pressure group, Movimiento140, is pushing for speed limits on motorways to be raised to 140 and enforced.
They argue that cars have better braking systems and are more technologically advanced than when the 120-kilometre speed limit was set in the 1970s, when few vehicles were capable of travelling any faster.
Additionally, with a relatively low speed limit, drivers are more inclined to flout it, but are much more likely to respect a higher limit.
DGT statistics show that distraction at the wheel causes more fatal road accidents than speeding or drink-driving, the other two major factors in traffic deaths.


Spanish jobseekers hope for work in Germany
THOUSANDS of jobless Spaniards have expressed an interest in working in Germany, after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she was targeting Spain as a source of qualified professionals to fill 800,000 positions.
Merkel explains that Germany has a relatively low unemployment rate, but a dearth of highly-qualified candidates for certain specialist jobs.
These include medicine, education, engineering, tourism, and catering.
Given Spain's huge unemployment figures, particularly among the young, and the superior level of education typically seen amongst the working age population, Merkel says Germany prefers to actively seek Spanish jobseekers rather than change its immigration laws.
Depending upon the response from Spain, she expects to extend the offer of jobs to Portugal and Greece.
Research among recruitment centres shows that since 2009, over 130,000 Spanish people have emigrated to northern Europe to find work.
Their typical profile is age 25 to 35, unmarried and with no children, and they usually intend to spend a maximum of three years working abroad before returning home to Spain.
Those who have done so say they have found vastly better pay, working conditions, job security and promotion opportunities in northern Europe than in Spain, where nepotism is a barrier and staff turnover is high due to employers favouring temporary contracts.
Temporary contracts mean cheaper labour, and make it easier and less costly to get rid of employees.
But it also means job insecurity and the impossibility of young people obtaining a mortgage and being able to own property, which has a knock-on effect on the housing industry and the birth-rate.
It also leads to poor customer service and productivity, given that staff working for poor pay and with no guarantees for the future are less likely to be loyal to their employees.


New, faster and more comfortable air-links to China from Valencia
FOUR new weekly flights will link up Valencia with China from next month.
The Turkish airline Istanbul Atartuk will carry passengers from the Manises terminal to Peking, Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong.
Only one stop is necessary, in Istanbul.
The flight from Valencia to the Turkish city is three hours, then another 10 or so to the various cities in China.
Mayoress, Rita Barberá, says Valencia could become 'the gateway to Europe from the east'.
She explains that until now, flying to China from Valencia would involve up to three stops – via Madrid and Heathrow at least.
However, from the end of March, not only will the flight be quicker and easier, passengers can enjoy travelling in 'comfort class' – a halfway-house between economy and business – on the A320 airbuses and Boeing 737-800 carriers.
Barberá says the new flight path could dramatically increase business opportunities for the region with the far east.


Black weekend on Spain's roads
THE last weekend in January saw carnage on the roads in Spain, with 16 people losing their lives in 14 accidents.
On Saturday, six fatal accidents left eight dead and two seriously injured.
The worst of the two crashes were in Sils (Girona), in which two people of 22 and 28 were killed, and in Cabrera de Mar (Barcelona) when an 18-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man perished in a head-on collision with a van.
Five people were killed in road traffic accidents on Friday, and three injured, and Sunday saw the deaths of three people and five left seriously hurt.
Only two of the deceased were drivers; the remainder were passengers or, in two of the accidents, passers-by who were run over.
Seven of the accidents involved cars veering off the road, and five were the result of collisions.



Supermarkets and chain stores permitted to open on nine bank holidays in 2011
SHOPS in the Comunidad Valenciana will be allowed to open on nine of this year's regional and national bank holidays.
Certain dates – such as Christmas Day, Good Friday, May Day and Easter Sunday – are excluded and businesses are not permitted to trade by law unless they have special exemption due to the nature of their activity.
But supermarkets in particular are likely to take advantage of the additional opening days allowed, even though smaller businesses outside of large towns will probably opt to close.
The next major holiday in the region when the shops may be open, depending upon their management's choice, is Maundy Thursday, April 21.
They will also be able to open on July 3, a Sunday, to kick-start the summer sales, and Sunday, August 14, since Monday, August 15 is a bank holiday in honour of the Virgen del Carmen.
Shops are also permitted to trade this year on Sunday, November 6, given that they will have to shut on Tuesday, November 1 to mark All Saints' Day.
Only shops in the province of Alicante – excluding Alcoi – will be open on Saturday, March 19, which is Saint Joseph's Day and the last day of the Fallas fiesta.
Next, retailers may choose to open for business on Sunday, December 4, since the following Tuesday is a national holiday, and on Thursday, December 8, which is a regional holiday.
Sunday trading will be permitted on December 11 and 18 and on January 8, 2012, for the Christmas campaign and the start of the winter sales.


Catering industry workers plan protests, petitions and shut-downs over anti-smoking law
BAR and restaurant owners in the Comunidad Valenciana have held a crisis meeting to decide what action they intend to take over massive losses in taking since the anti-smoking law came into force.
They have not ruled out a full-scale protest in Madrid, which is likely to attract hotel and catering bosses from all over Spain.
An extraordinary general meeting of the Hostelry and Tourism Traders' Confederation of the Comunidad Valenciana (CONHOSTUR) this week saw business-owners in the industry presenting their accounts to reveal the full extent of losses suffered in the past month.
Most bars say they have lost between 15 and 65 per cent of their customers and profits – either because their customers no longer go to bars, or because they stay for a much shorter time, put off by having to nip outside every time they want a cigarette.
CONHOSTUR members are preparing a full calendar of protest action, starting with petitions.
They have already gathered 70,000 signatures from around the region in just five weeks.
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