March News Roundup

Spain's oldest resident dies at 112
SPAIN'S oldest woman has died in Reus (Tarragona) at the grand old age of 112.
Teresa Dosaigües' life has spanned across three centuries, since she was born in 1898 in La Morera de Montsant.
She celebrated her 112th birthday on February 13 this year.
The youngest of five, she moved to Barcelona with her family when she was 12 – a century ago – then got married and lived there until 1947, aged 49, when for reasons relating to her husband's health she moved to Cornudella de Montsant (Priorat district).
Shortly afterwards, Teresa lost her husband and then lived alone until the age of 91.
Having no children to look after her or keep her company, it was her niece Carme Bley who convinced her to move in with her in Reus in 1989.
Teresa carried on living with Carme until last year when she had to go to a nursing home after breaking her wrist.
Despite her age, Carme said her aunt has always enjoyed exceptionally good health and been fiercely independent.
ETA suspect behind bars over police station bombing
ONE of the two suspected ETA terrorists thought to be behind the blast in Calahorra (La Rioja) in March 2008 have been remanded in custody pending trial.
Urko Izagirre, known as 'the Bosnian', and Enrique Noya, referred to as Kini, were arrested during a major police swoop in the province of Vizcaya a week ago.
Kini has been released, whilst Bosnio remains behind bars indefinitely.
He is said to have been involved in a terrorist attack on the Guardia Civil headquarters – where officers live with their families in 'company' flats – having lent his Mercedes Vito van to other members of the commando Liberad al viento ('free the wind').
Police broke up the commando shortly before the attack went ahead, but Bosnio fled to the remote mountain location of Peñacerrada near Álava.
Here, he is said to have stolen a Honda Civic from a couple and loaded it with 120 kilos of explosives before parking it next to the Guardia Civil headquarters.
He made an anonymous call in the name of ETA shortly before the bomb went off, to prevent death or injury, but the explosion caused extensive damage both to the police headquarters and the officers' homes.
Iberia to launch low-cost airline
NATIONAL airline Iberia is hoping to jump on the low-cost bandwagon by offering cheap flights from November.
Major air companies have seen their sales drop since the rise of budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet.
As a result, Iberia intends to run cut-price no-frills flights to keep up.
Its 'traditional' flights will continue, with its long-haul destinations to Latin America remaining popular.
The route will be open by November, but the first flight is not expected to take off until January 2011.
Underground drug den run by gypsy clan uncovered
A 'DRUG supermarket' dismantled in Madrid has been found to be involved in voodoo and had their underground premises under strict CCTV vigilance.
Police say the den, in Valdemingómez – just outside the city – even had its own car park and smoking room.
Officers have been on the trail of the gang behind the operation – a clan of gypsies – since July.
This week, they arrested 13 people and seized more than a kilo of cocaine and hash, 600 grams of heroine and more than 12,000 euros in cash – the result of just one night's dealing on the street.
The accused parties are known to the police and are said to be a highly-organised gypsy clan with a strict hierarchy, let by two women who took charge of distributing the drugs and whose orders were followed to the letter by the others.
Police, who surrounded the plot earlier this week, had to force the six security doors to the underground den.
They described it as a 'bunker', filled with security cameras and at least 120 people buying and consuming drugs.
The gang are also said to have practiced voodoo rituals.
More starving families now than during the post-war years
A NATIONAL charity that hands out food-parcels to the poor in Spain says it is dishing out as many now as it did in the post-Civil War years.
Casa Caridad said it gave out 340,000 food-parcels in 2009 and expects this number to increase this year.
Once the Civil War ended, hunger invaded the streets of towns and cities across Spain, leaving a bad taste in people's mouths that have never been forgotten.
It is not unusual to see now-elderly war-children collecting up dropped fruit and vegetables after weekly markets have finished.
Many of those who lived through the Civil War refuse to eat granary bread, because the grains and chaff in it reminds them of the loaves their parents made using poor-quality, unsifted flour and takes them back to los días del hambre (literally, the 'days of hunger').
Most of those who go along to Casa Caridad's soup kitchens, or cafés du coeur as they are known in other parts of Europe, are working-age foreigners.
The centre in Valencia says its regular visitors are people who managed to secure residence rights and jobs, and buy or rent homes, but having been made redundant are barely able to afford to feed themselves.
Many are terrified that their residence permits will not be renewed now that they are out of work and unable to find jobs.
Entire families of Bolivians, Moroccans and Algerians attend the soup kitchens daily.
Their heads, often only in their 20s, say they could not care less what type of job they had to do, but there is simply nothing out there.
Last year alone, Valencia's branch of the charity fed 8,000 children accompanied by their parents.
Many native Spanish people are forced to call on the charity's services, its organisers reveal.
“Until recently, the typical profile of a Spanish person coming here was someone homeless and with no family, often alcoholics or drug addicts.
“But nowadays, they are perfectly normal people who cannot get jobs,” says vice-president of Valencia's social services, Luis Miralles.
Judge blocks gay couple from registering their baby as their own child
A COURT decision has prevented a married couple of men from registering their baby in their Libro de familia, an official family document provided to all those who tie the knot.
A judge has questioned whether the child can really be said to be their flesh and blood, since the couple, from Valencia, 'hired' a mother in the USA.
A common practice in certain US states, the 'hire a womb' scheme means gay male couples or infertile heterosexual couples can pay a woman to act as a surrogate mother, whilst donating their own sperm.
In fact, Puerto Rica-born pop sensation Ricky Martin is rumoured to have recently 'had' twins via this method, although he has always denied claims that he is gay.
The Spanish federations of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (FELGTB) has slammed the judge's decision as 'homophobic' – particularly as the registrar governing body has already recognised the couple's right to register their child, even without giving the mother's details.
FELGTB stressed that in certain USA states, surrogacy was perfectly legal and the 'carrier' woman 'has no links to the foetus and therefore no legal rights over it'.
In many cases, 'rent a womb' mothers do not in fact want to have any links with the child or the couple paying her to give them a baby.
The court has said that as surrogacy is not legal in Spain, it cannot be recognised.
FELGTB commented that the courts never investigated known cases of surrogacy with heterosexual couples, meaning their actions were 'clearly homophobic'.
They also say it was not in the interests of the child's wellbeing, since he would know that his fathers were not permitted to recognise him as their son and that he would have US nationality and be identified as such, despite growing up in Valencia and living a Spanish lifestyle.
Abortion law approved in Senate
SPAIN'S government approved the new abortion law reform in the Senate last week, with 132 votes in favour and 126 against.
The new legislation will mean that girls aged 16 and 17 can have an abortion without seeking their parents' permission – previously, this was only permitted at age 18 or over.
It also means abortions can be carried out up to week 14 without the woman needing to seek any approval from a mental health expert, and in cases where the mother or child's life could be in danger, up to week 22.
In the past, although abortion was legal in Spain, a woman had to jump through hoops and be given the approval of a psychologist, to show that to carry on with the pregnancy would be harmful to either her own or the child's physical or mental health.
Where a psychologist did not consider this to be the case, the woman could be denied an abortion.
This has led to back-street practices, dangerous 'home abortion' attempts, children abandoned or mistreated, or women suffering emotional trauma for the rest of their children's lives due to the guilt at having previously wanted to terminate the pregnancy.
In four months' time, public hospitals will need to be prepared to carry out abortions – something that only three per cent of them have done up to now.
Air-traffic control strike in France disrupts flights to UK
AN air-traffic control strike in France has led to 53 flights being cancelled all over Spain.
Workers in Paris-Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports, as well as those of Biarritz, Pau, Grenoble, La Rochelle, Chambéry and Quimper have downed tools over working conditions and pay, meaning that more than a quarter of the 203 flights due to leave on Wednesday last week were grounded.
It is thought that the strike could continue until tomorrow (Saturday) or even longer.
The four unions that called the strike are hoping to stop plans to fuse air-traffic control operations across six European countries – France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Holland and Luxembourg.
Spain's airport governing body, AENA, has set up alternative routes to avoid planes having to enter French air-space in order to absorb air traffic between Spain and the UK, Ireland and the north-east of Europe.
This could mean longer or delayed flights for anyone travelling to or from the UK in the next few days.
Rise in IVA could set back Spain's economy, says Brussels
EUROPEAN Union economists have predicted yet another fall in the Spanish economy as a result of the rise in IVA.
From July 1, 2010, IVA will go up to 18 per cent from its current 16 per cent.
This could force consumers to tighten their belts, faced with higher prices, or cause traders to run at a loss if they are obliged to maintain existing prices.
The European Commission has thrown cold water on president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's anti-recession measures, saying the IVA increase would be counterproductive.
Experts in Brussels have predicted that in the second quarter of 2010, the economy will begin to pick up as Spain's GNP is expected to increase by 0.1 per cent – the first increase it has seen in years.
But they say it could fall by 0.2 per cent between July and September with the increase in IVA.
This rise is thought to be one of the least popular anti-recession measures Spain's government has taken.
Vice-president of the ministry for the economy, Elena Salgado, said the tax office would claw back an extra 5,150 million euros as a result and that by putting it back to July, rather than the start of the current tax year in January, the economy would be starting to pick up before the move came into effect.
She also revealed that the range goods and services attracting reduced-rate IVA – currently charged at seven per cent but soon to rise to eight – would be widened in order to help generate employment.
The EU says if Spain increases IVA, it will be the only country in the Eurozone whose GNP does not rise in 2010, since other member states are expected to grow by 0.7 per cent.
Home mortgages plummet whilst business 'crisis' loans shoot up
LOAN and mortgage restrictions began to let up in Spain towards the end of last year, but this has failed to give the housing market a boost on the Costa Blanca.
Business-owners sought more than 4,300 loans to keep their heads above water, whilst most mortgages were on trade premises.
The fall in the number of mortgages on first homes was less significant at the end of 2009, with figures dropping by 3.7 per cent, due to falling interest rates and banks being more lenient about offering credit.
But job-losses and reduced employment security mean few people have had the means to take up home loans, leading to the number of newly-built and second-hand houses on the Costa Blanca market remaining in the thousands with no signs of shifting.
As for business loans, which have shot up by 35 per cent in the last year, these are largely to prevent owners from having to close down rather than new entrepreneurs setting up.
The average loan for shops, restaurants and similar premises was 82,000 euros in 2009, reveals the National Statistics Institute (INE).
Residential mortgages fell by 21.9 per cent across Spain in 2009, a figure not seen since 2001.
The average home loan last year was 117,688 euoros, some 15.7 per cent lower than in 2008.
On the Costa Blanca, the average mortgage on a home is 92,995 euros – a whopping 21 per cent lower than two years ago.
Eurozone interest rate reaches record low
INTEREST rates across Europe fell to an historic low in February, with the Euribor dropping to 1.225 per cent.
The Euribor is the Eurozone interest rate which dictates mortgage and loan payments and earnings on savings.
And its recent fall means the average mortgage-holder will see their payments drop by 65 euros a month – unless they are on a fixed rate.
Although the average monthly rate for February was 1.225 per cent, the lowest figure recorded last month was Friday's 1.215 per cent, reveals the Bank of Spain.
In December 2009, the Euribor ended a 14-month run of constant falls which led to a record in November of 1.231 per cent, when it picked up to 1.242 per cent at the end of the year.
But it fell again to mirror November's rates last month.
This is thought to be due to panic invading the investment markets over the depreciation of the euro and fears that the Eurozone could be badly affected by Greece's bankruptcy.
With February's rates, a 150,000-euro mortgage payable over 25 years will now reduce monthly payments by 65 euros.

TV goes digital in Barcelona province

TERRESTRIAL television will cease to exist throughout the province of Barcelona on March 10, the ministry of industry has announced.

Viewers will only be able to watch their TV if they have a TDT router fitted to their sets.

This router, which replaces the traditional aerial, means that in addition to the mainstream Spanish channels, many more will be available.

The only financial outlay is the initial cost of the router, which can be from 50 to 100 euros – after this, there is no monthly charge.

At the moment, however, parts of Spain will only have very limited transmission and possibly no more than around 10 channels available.

The full process of Spain's switch to digital TV will finish on April 3, at which point anyone who does not already have a satellite or cable television network will need a TDT router to be able to watch anything at all.

But in the towns and villages in the Barcelona area that are due to move over to digital television on Wednesday, 93 per cent already have a TDT router in use.

New television sets automatically have the router built in.

Ikea 'may open store in Castellón'
SWEDISH furniture giant Ikea is considering setting up a store in Castellón, reveals a spokesperson from the city council.
Although Ikea's current expansion plan within Spain only includes centres in Alicante and Valencia between now and 2015, they have written to Castellón's local authorities expressing their interest in opening a store in the city.
The popular flat-pack firm will carry out cost-benefit analyses and market research to find out whether a branch in Castellón – once those of Alicante and Valencia are open – would be economically viable.
Sites that may work are the Parc Castellón shopping centre, or the City of Transport park, says the council.
They reveal that setting up the store would suppose a cash injection of at least 250 million euros for the area, as well as creating thousands of jobs.
'Intelligent' electricity meters will save money and energy
A CUTTING-EDGE new energy-saving electricity system is being introduced in the province of Castellón, allowing householders to fix breakdowns themselves.
Iberdrola has also said they will now be billed on a 'pay as you go' system, meaning only electricity actually used will be charged for.
This will mean fitting new meters in 100,000 homes and revamping the networks at 600 power stations.
Although there is no cost for the fitting of the new meters, a nominal administration fee of eight euros will appear in the next bill – after which, bills should be cheaper than before.
Householders will be able to sign up with Iberdrola or cut off their own supply by telephone, and an easy-to-use system means there will generally be no need to call the electricity board if there is a prolonged powercut.
This is because Iberdrola will have full details of every client, via their new 'intelligent meters'.
These meters are also energy-saving devices, thus more environmentally-friendly.
Tortosa chooses 2011 electoral candidate
TORTOSA has announced this week that the new electoral candidate for its reigning political party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) will be Josep F. Monclús, current head of the department of territorial services, innovation, universities and businesses.
He was voted as the candidate to stand in the 2011 elections by 91 per cent of his party.
One of his main objectives, says Monclús, will be creating employment, and pushing for the town to be county capital of the Ebre i Tortosa district.
Regional government wants to scrap motorway tolls
REGIONAL president Francisco Camps has announced he is in support of scrapping tolls on the AP-7.
He wants to use the central government's annual grant to maintain the motorway rather than toll companies doing so using fees charged to motorists.
Camps has agreed an early draft of a new law to 'de-toll' the AP-7 through Castellón, and if this goes ahead, it will eventually stretch throughout the whole of the Comunidad Valenciana.
The president also commented that the central government should fund a motorway from the province of Tarragona to the site of the future airport of Castellón, and called for the N-340 and N-332 through the two provinces to be dualled.
Camps believes removing the tolls from the motorway will have 'political, social and economic benefits' for the region and its people.
Benifaió Moorish tower to be restored
A MEDIAEVAL watchtower in Benifaió that has been crumbling into ruin for years will finally be saved.
The local council has agreed to invest one per cent of its annual budget in restoring the Muza tower, a stone construction dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries and used for defending the town.
It was declared a listed cultural heritage site some years ago, and is one of Benifaió's major attractions.
Work could start on the tower as early as next month, the council has indicated.
Two new car parks open at Reus airport
REUS airport has finally finished tarmacking two of its car parks, meaning space for 900 extra vehicles.
Airport governing body AENA says P4 and P5 are now finished – the former is a short-stay and the second a long-stay car park.
Two new car parks will also be build, with works due to start in November.
Speeding drivers caught
TWO motorists caught haring along the AP-7 at around 100 kilometres per hour over the speed limit were arrested this week.
The Mossos d'Esquadra – Catalunya's answer to the Guardia Civil – say the driver of a four-by-four was spotted doing 224 kilometres per hour in the Ulldecona (Tarragona) area.
Andrés S.S., 50, could face between three and six months in jail and the loss of his licence for up to four years.
Another man, seen driving at 215 kilometres per hour on the same stretch of road just minutes later, could face the same fate.

Picturesque riverside walkway restored in Tortosa
RESTORATION works on the riverside woodland between Tortosa and the mouth of the Ebro river have finished.
Along with planting a 20-metre strip of trees, the regional ministry of the environment has also started work on a sewage plant in the area.
Authorities had been concerned for some time about the deforestation of the area, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the Ebro river's course.
An old sailor's footpath has also been restored, and wooden walkways, a bicycle park, benches, boards giving information about the nature reserve, and waste-paper bins installed.
Ebro fishing conditions to be improved
VARIOUS politicians visited the river Ebro delta last week to work out how to improve conditions for fishing in the area.
The ministry of the environment intends to take measures to optimise oxygen levels, temperature and salt levels in the water.
They say the quality of the water declines in April and May when pesticides are used on the rice fields.
But they are examining the possibility of importing sea water to dilute the chemical content of the river.
Bomb discovered by walker
A BOMB has been found in a woodland in Tarragona by a local resident.
According to the Guàrdia Urbana and the Local Police, the explosive – dating back to the Civil War – is in a good state of conservation.
It was discovered in the Mas Enric woods by a man from Campclar (Tarragona) whilst out walking one evening.
Trained bomb technicians from the Mossos d'Esquadra were called out, and they have stored the artefact in the police headquarters in Salou.

Montroy illegal homes sold to Brits in good faith
HUNDREDS of British residents are waiting with bated breath to see what will happen to their homes following the arrest last month of the mayor of Montroy.

Javier Carrión reportedly allowed around 77 homes to be built on farmland not classified for development during his reign which finished in 2006.

But the Las Palomas urbanisation does not officially exist, and its residents have embargoes on their properties.

Most of them are British retirees who will not be able to afford to pay for the necessary infrastructure for their homes to be recognised by the council – even if the land is later made legal.

Some owners still do not have the deeds to their property, and the estate agent who sold them their homes, Moravim, has declared itself bankrupt – with these expatriates' houses still in the company's name.

A number of the houses were sold to several owners at the same time.

Other residents have reported construction defects so severe that they have had accidents.

In most cases, there is no mains water – only water suitable for farming – and no electricity.

And those who bought land in order to build homes on have effectively parted with thousands of euros for a plot they do not own, nor have any documentation to prove it is theirs.

This case is similar to earlier illegally-built property scams in Llíber and Catral (Alicante), involving mostly retired expatriates – often British – buying homes in good faith to find they were due to be demolished.

Vall d'Albaida flight terminal plans still up in the air
LA VALL d'Albaida's new airport appears to have disappeared into the ether and its plans have made no further progress, say local authority figures.

At present, the administration is awaiting a reply from the ministry of the environment to give them the green light to build the huge complex in the Llutxent area, which is expected to be used for both private leisure flights and low-cost commercial airlines.

An industrial estate, technology park, two hotels of three and four stars, an aeroplane-based theme park for children, a circuit for test-driving cars and motorbikes, and a residential complex are all within the plans.

It is hoped to provide a massive boost to both industry and tourism.

So far, the ministry's three main requisites are that the site is not in a flood-risk area, nor near habitats of endangered species of birds, and must have the full support of all the nearby local councils.

Four projects are currently on the table with sites for the future terminal in either Alzira, Llíria or La Vall d'Albaida.

In fact, they are not ruling out pushing for all four to be approved, saying Spain's airport network needs to grow as its flight facilities are sparse in comparison to the European average.

But the regional government has said it will not provide any funding, meaning that local authorities will have to convince the central government to help out.

Torrent slashes its Fallas budget
TORRENT has announced plans to cut its budget for this year's Fallas by 25,000 euros.
Last year, the town spent 61,000 euros on the two Falla monuments – the main one and the children's statue.
But now, they are going to reduce the amount of money spent on these by 11,000 euros each.
They will also eliminate the traditional falleras' election lunch and reduce costs of mascletaes and fireworks, cutting out another 3,000 euros.
The council says it will spend these 3,000 euros on social causes.
Facelift for stations between Xàtiva and Alcoi
SIX stations along the Alcoi-Xàtiva train line will be modernised over the course of this year, the railway board has announced.
Stations at Agres, Genovés, Ontinyent, Bufali, Montaberner and La Pobla del Duc will be given a facelift, involving increasing the height of the platform to make it easier to step onto the trains and extending its length by 200 metres.
Funds will also be injected into improving the waiting areas to give passengers better protection against the elements, cleaning access ways and landscaping gardened areas.
Council 'pressurising' for golf resort to go ahead, says opposition
SOCIALIST councillors in Alcoi have complained that the reigning opposition, the PP, are putting pressure on the regional government to approve plans for a massive residential complex and golf course.
A PSOE spokesperson said the right-wing party appears to be pushing the ministry of the environment to give them the green light, citing as evidence that their initial requisites to allow the project to go ahead have been relaxed.
Initially, says Patricia Blanquer of the PSOE, the ministry rejected the plans for Xirillent Golf resort out of hand saying it went against laws passed at the end of 2006 aimed at making golf courses available to all, rather than an exclusive few who live on an adjoining resort.
But a second report from the ministry saw some of the wording changed, referring to the project as 'ill-advised' rather than 'flouting the rules'.
Blanquer says the PP is pressurising the ministry for the plans to go ahead as part of their 'electoral strategy'.

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