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Spanish national news round-up week ending 12th August 2016
Hopes rise for a new government as Spain begins a long holiday weekend
This weekend is lengthened for many people by the national holiday which falls on 15th August to coincide with the feast day of the Assumption, and as a result it is fair to expect the beaches and main roads of Spain to be about as busy as they get at any point in the year.
However, while the Spaniards don their swimming gear and head for the beach or the mountains for the next three days, there have been plenty of important and interesting items in the regional and national news…
Politicians edge closer to forming a new government
After many months of fruitless negotiations, the political party leaders of Spain perhaps deserve a few days off after a week in which significant progress could well have been made towards at last forming a new government.
This Wednesday could eventually be seen as a momentous day in this long-lasting saga, with the Ciudadanos party led by Albert Rivera to offering its support for the PP’s Mariano Rajoy in an investiture debate in parliament at some point during the next few weeks.
There is, of course, a price to be paid. Ciudadanos are demanding that the PP take action to eliminate allegedly corrupt members from the party, and other conditions include the elimination of impunity for members of the national and regional governments, the reform of the electoral system and the setting up of a parliamentary committee to investigate the “Bárcenas” case, which involves the alleged illegal financing of the PP.
However, it seems feasible that these demands will be acceptable: the PP executive committee will decide whether or not to accept the deal on 17th August, and if they respond in the affirmative this would raise the level of support for the acting President to 169 votes out of 350, leaving him requiring only a few abstentions from other parties to be reinstated as leader of a minority government.
On the other hand, the PSOE party maintains that it will vote against the re-investiture of Mariano Rajoy, leaving significant hurdles still to be overcome.
Summer wild fires rage in Galicia and La Palma
After over a week firefighters continue to struggle in the face of adverse conditions as they combat the wild fire which has been raging in the south of the island of La Palma, the fifth largest in the Canaries, and the regional government reports that the area of land affected has risen to over 5,000 hectares.
It has been established that the blaze was caused by a German hippy-style recluse burning his own used toilet paper after meeting the call of nature in the woods.
The fire has been stabilized on all fronts but is not yet fully under control, and as the situation gradually returns to normal attention is now turning to the after-effects of the fire, among which are the large numbers of pets who are lost in the charred landscape of southern La Palma as a result of the blaze.
The fire in La Palma came close to claiming two more human lives on Wednesday, following the death of a fireman last week, when a helicopter involved in firefighting duties crashed on the slopes of the mountain of El Cabrito in the municipality of Mazo, but fortunately the two occupants of the helicopter suffered only minor injuries
In the north-east of the country, while the huge fire in La Palma has occupied many of the headlines in the Spanish news, in the province of Pontevedra (region of Galicia) an equally alarming situation has developed over the last four days. The total area of land affected by nine fires in Pontevedra is now even greater than in La Palma – estimates place it at approximately 5,700 hectares – and residents in some rural areas have had to be evacuated, including 40 children at a summer camp for young people.
So overstretched are the firefighting services that residents have had to help in any way they can, attempting to douse the flames with buckets of water and hosepipes or even to beat them with blankets and small branches in order to save their homes and land.
The real source of concern, though, according to the regional government, is that all the indications are that these fires were started deliberately, and local residents are demanding that the arsonist (or arsonists) responsible be identified and punished as soon as the flames are extinguished.
While most of Spain suffered in the heat this week there were storms in the south-east on Wednesday, calling to mind the 20th anniversary of a flash flood which caused the loss of 87 lives at the campsite of Las Nieves in Biescas, in the province of Huesca (province of Aragón). To mark the occasion the Town Hall unveiled a monument to the victims on Sunday as a gesture of support and respect.
Elsewhere, the north and west of Spain suffered the back end of the latest heatwave: on Sunday night the discomfort continued with minimum temperatures falling no lower than 30 degrees in many parts of Extremadura and southern Galicia, and in the province of Badajoz on Sunday night the heat was such that even at 8.30 in the morning, before the sun began to heat up the air, the thermometer showed 33ºC.
The latest foreign tourist expenditure figures, which were published last week and relate to June, reveal that during the month the amount spent by visitors to Spain from abroad was 7,871 million euros, a healthy 12.7% more than in the equivalent month last year.
The figures for almost all of the largest markets rose in June 2016, not least in the single most important one, namely the UK. During June British visitors accounted for 23% of the total with spending of 1,808 million euros, representing a rise of 16.6% compared to June 2015, while the figures for France and Germany also increased by 19.7% and 12.4% respectively.
In general terms the year-to-date figures after six months of 2016 tell a similar story. The total spending by foreign visitors rose by 8.2% to 32,685 million euros, with the UK market accounting for a 20.6% share (6,726 million) following an increase of 14.5%.
On the other hand, while in general terms Spain’s tourism sector is enjoying a boom year in 2016, the government of the island of Mallorca is worried that there may actually be too much tourism this year, and have launched a campaign to promote the concept of “sustainable tourism” for the future. The concern is not only that Mallorca is becoming too crowded, ironically making it a less attractive destination for discerning visitors, but also that the island’s resources may be overused to the detriment of the population of over 850,000 who live there all year round.
Every day in the height of summer there are up to 1,000 flights into and out of the airport of Palma de Mallorca, and the worry of the government is that such an extreme level of activity is simply not sustainable, hence the “Bienvenido Turismo Sostenible” (Welcome to sustainable tourism) initiative which was unveiled.
There is little doubt that those arriving in Mallorca this weekend will be made welcome, but at the same time there is thought to be a real possibility of a limit to visitor numbers being imposed as Mallorca seeks to avoid reaching saturation point. For some this would be akin to killing the goose that laid the golden egg, but those in favour of imposing restrictions would argue that the golden egg has become too large to eat and is now causing indigestion!
Still on the subject of tourism, good news for visitors to Barcelona is that restoration work has now been completed at the “Sala Hipóstila” in the Park Güell in Barcelona, one of the city’s most important tourist attractions: among the decorative items are four “suns” on the ceiling which were created by Antoni Gaudí and his colleague Josep María Jujol using old wine glasses, stained glass plates, bottle tops and the like, and which have now been restored to their full glory.
One of the main tourist attractions on Friday night, though, is available all over the country: cast your eyes upwards into the night sky and witness the 500 shooting stars per hour of the Perseid meteor shower!
The big political news this week in the Basque Country was that Arnaldo Otegi, who was released in February after six and a half years in prison for belonging to ETA, has announced that he intends to stand as the candidate for the presidency of the regional government for the EH Bildu party at the regional election during the autumn, despite officially being barred from holding public office for a period of 16 years.
In a defiant statement made at the weekend Sr Otegi affirmed that neither the courts, nor the State, nor the Guardia Civil nor the Spanish army will prevent him from standing as a candidate for the post of “lehendakari” in the Basque parliament at the vote which is to be held on 25th September.
Local fiestas all over Spain
Among the annual fiestas in the news this week was the annual recreation of the Viking raids which created fear among locals in centuries gone by in the Pontevedra coastal town of Catoira, with hundreds of people taking part in an event which has been awarded.
It has become customary in the tourist sector to refer to the increasing numbers of Scandinavian visitors to Spain as the “Viking Invasion”, but in Catoira the phrase has taken on a different meaning as every year on the first Sunday in August tall, blond, robust invaders take the village by storm, clad in their stereotypical horned helmets.
Also in the north of the country, this year’s fiestas in honour of the Virgen Blanca in Vitoria (Basque Country) featured the traditional “Aurresku” Basque dance performed by three local Town Hall councillors, providing a spectacular image of the kind not normally associated with the business of local government!
On the downside of the many fiestas being held all over Spain, the small town of Montillana in the north of the province of Granada is in mourning this week after a firework accident during the annual fiestas on Sunday caused the tragic death of a 5-year-old boy.
Crime and punishment
The Policía Nacional, in collaboration with Interpol, have arrested five members of a “Pink Panther”-style band of thieves who compiled a booty worth over 400,000 euros in just 48 seconds from a jewelry store in the up-market Gracia district of Barcelona.
Also in Catalunya, the Mossos d’Esquadra confiscated 15 kilograms of marijuana which was discovered in packages hidden inside a piece of furniture which had been packed for shipment to Italy.
At the other end of the country, two employees of a company at the port of Algeciras in the province of Cádiz have been placed under arrest by the Policía Nacional after it was found that they had attempted to allow 350 kilograms of cocaine into Spain hidden among a legal shipment of bananas from Ecuador. Later in the week the port was back in the headlines when the Guardia Civil and the Spanish customs authorities have seized a shipment of 809 firearms which were bound for the USA, including 737 assault rifles and 72 grenade launchers made in Switzerland which had been transported from Ghana.
Shock of the week, though, goes to a German man in in Gran Canaria who inherited a bungalow in the Playa del Inglés area of Maspalomas, in the south of the island. He made an unnerving discovery on Monday when he decided to undertake a clean-out of the property and it turned out that the freezer of the house he had inherited contained the dead body of a man who is believed to have been the ex- partner of the former owner.
Every year the arrival of the fairground attractions for the annual fiestas in the enclave of Ceuta, on the north African coast alongside the Strait of Gibraltar, is anticipated with enthusiasm by many of the people who live there, but for a few the departure of the fairground machinery is even more eagerly awaited.
This is because for those seeking to make their way across the Mediterranean into mainland Spain the shipping of such large items presents an opportunity to stow away on the cargo ships transporting the rides, and this year was no exception. With years of experience under their belts the security forces in the enclave are wise to the favoured locations of the stowaways, and the tightening of their preventative measures appears to be having the desired effect of making the trip less attractive to desperate illegal immigrants.
This year, though, “only” 28 people were detained while attempting to secrete themselves among the fairground attractions in the policing operation which ended on Tuesday in Ceuta, compared to 42 last year, whereas a decade ago the number rose to an astonishing 363.
Spectacular cliff-face rescue in Mallorca
A 58-year-old construction worker was rescued from the cliff face of Camp de Mar in the Mallorca municipality of Andratx on Tuesday after jumping at the last moment from the cab of his digger before it plunged into the sea below. He frantically clung onto branches which were protruding from the cliffs as the ground gave way beneath him and the machine crashed into the Mediterranean, and he was successfully airlifted from the scene and taken to hospital for treatment.
This man was one of the lucky ones, but at the same time spare a thought for the 63-year-old female resident of a home in Chirivel, in the province of Almería, who died on Tuesday evening after a malfunction in her electric wheelchair caused the motor to catch fire and she suffered severe burns.
Spanish property news
The most recent official residential property sales figures in Spain, which relate to the month of June, reveal further consolidation of the market’s recovery, which appears to be unaffected by the continuing failure of the country’s politicians to form a national government.
During June a total of 36,856 transactions were registered, 19.4% more than in the same month last year, and the fact that this is part of a long-term trend rather than a one-off rise is demonstrated by the fact that the year-to-date total is now 16.4% higher than it was in June 2015, while the running 12-monthly total stands at almost 385,000, having risen by 14.7% over the last year and reached its highest level since August 2011.
The June total is the highest in any month since August 2010 apart from brief taxation-related “blips” in early 2011 and 2013, and represents a return to a level of activity of 100 sales per 100,000 inhabitants of purchasing age.
On a slightly different tack, work began last Friday in the municipality of Piélagos, in the northern coastal region of Cantabria, to demolish 214 homes which were built illegally in 2004 on the mountain of El Alto del Cuco, and which are the result of one of the most infamous cases of unscrupulous residential development in the area. Fortunately no purchasers are affected by the demolition in Pîélagos, as Fadesa has already paid back all monies received to those who bought the homes in good faith.
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Cádiz Province, Andalucia
Granada Province: Andalucia
Huelva Province, Andalucía
Jaén Province, Andalucia
Málaga Province, Andalucía
Region of Andalucia
Seville Province, Andalucía
Córdoba Province, Andalucia
Autonomous Community of Galicia
Castilla La Mancha
Castilla y León
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