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Spanish news round-up week ending 10th February 2017
Catalan separatism hogs the limelight at a controversial trial in Barcelona
This week all eyes in the Spanish media have been on Barcelona, where former Catalan regional president Artur Mas and two of those who served as ministers in his separatist government stood trial for civil disobedience.
The charges brought against Sr Mas, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau were related to their roles in organizing the “informal independence consultation” which was held in Catalunya on 9th November 2014 as a protest against the Spanish government blocking a referendum vote, and joining them before the trial began on Monday on what became a protest march on a long route through the city were an estimated 40,000 supporters, including Carles Puigdemont, the current president of the regional government. In consequence Sr Mas arrived over half an hour late for the start of the trial, and his poor timekeeping led to a reprimand from the presiding judge, Jesús María Barrientos.
This, though, was just a curtain-raiser for the real business of the day, and once in court Sr Mas made declarations to the effect that this trial is about a clash of ideologies at least as much as the issue of whether the three accused are guilty of infringing the law. The former president made it quite clear that on a political level he was “responsible for everything”, while also denying having disobeyed Spain’s Constitutional Court.
Further declarations during the week continued to keep the Catalan independence debate at the top of the news, including those of Francesc Homs, the spokesman of the PDeCAT party in the national parliament of Spain and a lawyer by profession, who stated in court that both he and former president Artur Mas were certain that the holding of the poll did not constitute any offence, and that he would act in the same way if offered the chance.
The hearings concluded on Friday, and the verdicts are now awaited.
Three months since Mariano Rajoy was finally voted in as President of the Spanish government, an opinion poll published on Tuesday suggests that he and his colleagues in the PP party are more or less maintaining their level of support among the voting public.
The survey carried out by the CIS is primarily concerned with the voting intentions of those interviewed, and it reports that 33% of the participants currently favour the PP, almost exactly the same as at the general election on 26th June last year but 1.5 points down since the last voting intention survey, which was carried out before the new government was formed.
The only notable change since October is that support for the PSOE has risen by 1.6 points to 18.6%, despite the party continuing to be leaderless. However, the PSOE is still only in third place in terms of support expressed in the survey, behind the IU-Podemos coalition.
The bad news for Podemos is that for the first time this survey includes a measure of the popularity and appreciation of political party leaders, and among the four main parties their leader Pablo Iglesias comes last with a score of just 2.87 out of 10. According to party sources, this is due to his “charisma” (!).
The President of the national government also achieved widespread media comment on Tuesday when he spoke personally to the 45th President of the USA, making good use of his 15 minutes on the phone with Donald Trump to state that both he and Spain as a whole are ideally placed to act as a mediator for the American administration in Europe, Latin America, north Africa and the Middle East.
The week ended with another piece of important news for the PP as their annual party congress begins in Madrid, with a 28-year debate on seabirds finally being resolved. Almost everyone in the country has been under the impression since 1989 that the ubiquitous logo of the party represents a seagull, but on the insistence of its designer it has now been confirmed that the image is in fact based on a common tern. Whatever else happens at the congress over the weekend, at least that’s clear now!
And former politicians in the news…
Meanwhile, a former leading Spanish politician was back making unwanted headlines when after almost two years of investigation the Spanish tax authorities of the Agencia Tributaria filed a report in which they detail that Rodrigo Rato, the former national Vice-President, failed to declare over 14 million euros of income between 2004 and 2015, thus illegally evading tax bills totaling close to 6.8 million euros.
Joining Sr Rato on the list of discredited political figures in the news this week is former Balearics president Jaume Matas, who faces a possible prison sentence of 5 years if found guilty of collaborating with the illegal financing of the PP party in the islands by means of undeclared funds.
More adverse weather fronts in the northern half of Spain left a trail of destruction over last weekend, as winds gusting to well over 100 km/h made venturing outside hazardous from Galicia in the north-west to Murcia in the south-east.
At least 11 people were injured in weather-related incidents, including two who were crushed at around 18.30 on Sunday by falling trees in Salou, in the province of Tarragona (Catalunya). A 60-year-old man was reported by the medical emergencies unit to be in critical condition, while his 61-year-old female companion was also seriously hurt.
By midweek, after a brief respite, yet another front swept in from the Atlantic, bringing heavy snow to the mountains, more rough seas along the Cantabrian and Galician coastlines, and strong winds to much of the eastern half of the Iberian Peninsula. However, as the weekend begins the only heavy snow forecast is in Sierra Nevada and the mountains of central Spain: could spring be on its way at last?
Agriculture and the environment
Huge fire at chemicals plant in Valencia: 150 businesses were evacuated at an industrial estate in Paterna on a day of high drama and tension, as a spectacular fire filled the sky with flames and smoke and the threat of contamination disrupted daily life. The estate was shaken by a series of explosions, some of which sent debris and blackened stones spiraling into the sky, and huge flames and an enormous pall of black smoke engulfed the area.
Galicia potato farms threatened by Guatemalan potato moth: this Monday the regional government (or “Xunta”) of Galicia published a list of 31 municipalities where potatoes are currently affected by the Guatemalan potato moth, imposing a series of restrictions which will remain in place until the national Ministry of Agriculture decides on a firm course of action.
In September of last year it was confirmed that 17 municipalities were affected, but in the intervening five months the plague has spread and it now affects 13 in the province of A Coruña and 18 in Lugo. Given the increasing prevalence of the moth, it is thought that the Ministry of Agriculture could ban potato farming in these areas for two years in order to prevent the insect from spreading into other areas.
Veteran Burgos nuclear power station could reopen in a year: if the green light is given to extend the Garoña plant’s working life to 60 years, the work needed to make it operational again could be completed in as little as a year.
Two more people were arrested by the Guardia Civil in the city of Badalona on Tuesday morning, continuing a sequence of detentions related to Jihadism in the region of Catalunya over the course of the last two years.
The two Moroccan men taken into custody are aged 27 and 25, and are accused of being active in recruiting, indoctrinating and financing potential Daesh fighters by means of their activity on social network sites. Since Spain was placed on Level 4 Terrorist Threat Alert in mid-2015 there have now been 185 arrests related to Jihadism in this country.
Underage fake Jihadist arrested in Granada: the hoaxer admits to making at least 250 fake calls to the authorities, one of which resulted in at least 50,000 euros of expenses being incurred by the emergency services after a car-bomb alert at a Granada shopping mall.
The calm which has pervaded at the border fence in the Spanish north African enclave of Melilla in recent months was shattered on Monday morning when a group of around 100 African would-be immigrants made an assault on the frontier after coming down at 7.30 from their impromptu camps on the Moroccan side of the barrier.
At least twelve are reported to have been successful in clambering over the 6-metre barbed wire fence, in what was the first case of the border fence in Melilla being breached by a significant number of people since 13th October last year.
Tourism: British Ambassador expects no decrease in Costa del Sol tourism post-Brexit
Simon Manley, the British Ambassador to Spain, has expressed confidence that tourism in the Costa del Sol will not suffer any negative effects of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Speaking in Marbella, Mr Manley explained that Spain holds a “special place in the hearts of the British”, and that he believes that British visitors will continue to play an important role in the Spanish tourist industry as a result. Last year, he reminded his audience, the number of visitors to this country from the UK reached a new record of almost 18 million, and he believes that 2017 will see a further increase
And also in the news…
Benidorm police hunt for Rincon de Loix cat torturer: residents of the residential area of Rincón de Loix in Benidorm were shocked to discover that a cat had been hanged from the branch of a tree on Saturday night, and are demanding that a full investigation be launched in order to establish who is responsible for this and countless other instances of cruelty to felines in the area. The latest victim remained suspended by a fishing line noose for a reported 36 hours from a tree in the garden of an empty chalet, and residents have complained about the distress caused to young children who witnessed the sight.
Denia lesbian couple demand recognition as mothers of their children: María José Torres and Brenda Kelleher, a same-sex couple who live in Benidoleig, in the Marina Alta area of the province of Alicante, travelled to Madrid on Monday to present a petition signed by over 100,000 people to the national civil registry authorities, demanding that their seven-month-old son Lennon be inscribed as being the child of both of them.
The two women were married in 2007 but feel that they have been discriminated against by the Civil Registry in Denia, where a judge refused to inscribe Lennon as the son of both women without the relevant certificate proving the artificial insemination process by which he was conceived. This has angered the couple, since when their first two children were born no such requirement was made of them, and the babies were “properly” inscribed as being the children of both mothers when they lived in Atzaneta del Maestrat, in the province of Castellón. In addition, at present Lennon is registered only as the son of Brenda, who is an Irish national, and this has made it more difficult for him to be ascribed a healthcare card: as a foreigner, he needed a NIE foreigners’ ID number and documentation and an Irish passport before he could be seen by his local pediatrician in the Marina Alta.
Malaga café-bar bans pyjama-wearing customers: the owner of the Los Monaguillos café-bar may have pulled off an unintentional stroke of publicity genius over the last week by introducing an unusual dress code for her customers, insisting that they be barred from entry if they are wearing dressing gowns or pyjamas. In consequence, her modest establishment in the La Trinidad district of Málaga has featured in the local and national press and on national TV news bulletins!
British paedophile arrested in Santa Pola: the police are searching for more victims of Andrew Tracey, aka Mark Frost, who has already admitted to abusing at least 30 children.
50 starving animals rescued from private property in Cadiz: Guardia Civil officers saved 42 dogs, three cats, a horse, a pony and a donkey in Chiclana.
Two dead in Toledo light aircraft crash: the crash at the airfield of Villverde in Orgaz was the third in three months in the province of Toledo.
Two dead in train collision on Palencia level crossing: the tragedy occurred in Monzon de Campos in the province of Palencia.
Alicante woman falls to her death while collecting the washing: theaccident occurred in Gata de Gorgos in the Marina Alta area of Alicante, where a woman died while attempting to retrieve washing from a corrugated iron roof.
Spanish property news
The data regarding residential property sales registered in December were published by the government’s central statistics unit on Friday, revealing a 6.7% increase in comparison with the same month in 2015 and bringing to an end a year in which the level of activity on the housing market rose by 13.6%.
The number of sales has risen by 26.7% since 2014, and last year the figures were higher than in 2015 in all 17 of Spain’s regions, the most significant increases being those recorded in the Balearics Islands, Catalunya, Extremadura and Asturias.
Earlier in the week, leading real estate valuation firm Tinsa reported that in January the average market price per square metre of residential property was 0.9% higher than twelve months previously, having reached 1,361 euros.
This is the eleventh time in the last 12 months that the national figure has shown a year-on-year rise, and at the same time Tinsa report that most of the relevant economic indicators are still favourable to further recovery in the market.
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