Sunday, 20 November 2011

20 arrested for sexual exploitation of women

Posted On 12:48 1 comments


The case started with the arrest of a mother in Vélez-Málaga who obliged her children to prostitute themselvesTwo groups which dedicated their time to the sexual abuse and exploitation of women have been broken up by Spanish police. The case resulted from a police investigation in Vélez-Málaga into two children who were obliged to prostitute themselves by their mother. A total of 20 arrests have been made in Málaga, Girona and Madrid, including two thought to be the heads of the operation who were arrested in Figueres, Girona. The groups operated in clubs and private homes and the women were forced to work round the clock and consumer large amounts of alcohol and drugs. They would often be beaten if they refused any request. Six people have been charged for crimes linked to prostitution and corruption of minors, while the rest face charges of prostitution and acting against the rights of workers.

British woman falls off hotel balcony when having sex

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There has been another case of balconing in Spain, this time in Adeje, Tenerife, and with the twist that the victim was having sex with her husband at the time she fell. The British tourist who fell several metres then got her ankle caught between the bars of an internal staircase was left hanging there, head down and totally naked until the emergency crews arrived. 49 year old A.M.A.M. had been having sex with her husband against the railings on one of the public areas of the hotel and in the frenzy, the railings gave way. The husband called the emergency services and the local and national police arrived with a fire crew. After their initial surprise, the managed to release the woman’s trapped right leg, and she was taken for observation to the Hospitén Sur.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is pictured sitting in a plane in Zintan after his capture in Libya's rugged desert.

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Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
Photograph: Ismail Zitouni/Reuters

The man who led the fighters that captured Saif al-Islam has said that the late dictator's son tried to escape arrest by pretending to be a camel herder.

"When we caught him, he said, 'My name is Abdul Salem, a camel keeper,'" said commander Ahmed Amur on Sunday. "It was crazy."

His unit, from Zintan's Abu Bakar al-Sadiq brigade, had been patrolling the vast southern desert of Libya for more than a month when it was given a tip-off late last week that Saif al-Islam was close to the town of Obari.

"We knew it was a VIP target, we did not know who," said Amur, who worked as a professor of marine biology in Tripoli before the war.

He said rebel units with pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns deployed in ambush positions in the desert near Obari, a small town that lies astride roads leading to both Algeria and Niger.

As the informant had predicted, two Jeeps came into view at lunchtime on Friday, surging through the desert near the main highway that leads to Niger.

"When we saw the first car we fired shots ahead of it, not to hit, as a warning. It stopped. Then the second car belonging to Saif came," he said, speaking in English. "We shot warning shots, he (Saif's car) stopped in the sand. Saif and his aide came out of the car."

He said rebel fighters approached on foot, Saif threw himself face down and began rubbing dirt on his face. "He wanted to disguise himself," he said.

Amur raced up to him and ordered him to stand up, finding himself face to face with Saif al -Islam.

But the most notorious son of the late dictator claimed he was not one of the world's most wanted war crimes suspects, but a simple camel herder – Abdul Salem being the equivalent of a British "John Smith".

"His face was covered (with dirt), I knew who he was," said Amur. "Then he said to us, 'Shoot.' When the rebels refused to shoot, and identified themselves, Saif told them: 'OK, shoot me, or take me to Zintan.'

"We don't kill or harm a captured man, we are Islam," said Amur, still clad in the green combat jacket he wore when making the arrest. "We have taken him here to Zintan. After that, our government is responsible."

Zintan was on Sunday hemmed-in by checkpoints set up by its fighters, whose units fought some of the toughest battles of the war, ending in their attack on Tripoli in August.

Omran Eturki, leader of Zintan council, says Saif must face trial in Zintan's own courthouse. "We can try him, it will not take too long, we don't need any new laws," he said, referring to questions over Libya's current legal limbo. "They are Zintanis who captured him so they will have to have him here."

Eturki said it was better to try him in Libya than send him to the international criminal court, which has indicted Saif for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"The judicial authorities can appoint the judges and the lawyers, but the trial must be here. As long as there is justice, that is it."

He said Saif would get a fair trial. "There is no point to make a revolution for justice, and then you become the same killers. All the people of Zintan want to see him have a proper trial. We don't like to harm him. If we wanted to kill him we could kill him. We captured him so I think we have the right to try him."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Juan Antonio Roca, the ex Municipal Real Estate Assessor, at the centre of the allegations, has moved on to the most interesting phase

Posted On 13:28 12 comments

Juan Antonio Roca - EFE archiveJuan Antonio Roca - EFE archive
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The Malaya case investigating the widespread corruption in Marbella Town Hall, and with Juan Antonio Roca, the ex Municipal Real Estate Assessor, at the centre of the allegations, has moved on to the most interesting phase, as the Málaga court starts to investigate the bribes.

On Monday, some five years and seven months after his arrest, Roca has had to start to respond to the big questions at the centre of the case, the backhanders he allegedly received from real estate promoters in exchange for licences to build outside the PGOU urban plan. More than 50 people including ex Mayors and Roca himself are expected to declare in this section of the case.

The court considers that Roca was paid by 19 different companies between 2001 and 2006, a total of 33.3 million €. Among the big payers were Carlos Sánchez and Andres Liétor – 6.8 million, José Avila Rojas – five million, and the directors of Aifos – 4.8 million.

The Córdoba promoter Sandokán, who is now a councillor in the city, allegedly handed over 600,000 in exchange for town planning favours.

The prosecutor claims that despite not being elected, a politician or even a civil servant, Roca was the man who was running Marbella Town Hall following the motion of no confidence passed in August 2003 against the then Mayor, Julian Muñoz. Roca’s power, lubricated by bags of cash, saw all the councilors act as his subordinates.

Key to the prosecution’s case are a series of files found at the lawyers offices, Maras Asesores. The business was controlled by Roca and councilors and businessmen often met in their offices. Police found some files, in the power of Salvador Gardoqui, which are considered to be Roca’s secret accounts, showing the entry and exit of money, with the real estate section of the accounts showing a surplus of more than 17 million €.

In the court on Monday another one of the accused, Eusabio Sierra, admitted, following a plea bargain with the Anti-corruption Prosecutor, that he paid a 60,000 € backhander to Roca to speed up the Town Hall’s payment of a debt. His two year prison threat has now been reduced to six months as a result, which means he will escape jail by paying a fine.

The basis of Roca’s statement to the court today was that he was not in control of the Town Hall and that the now late Mayor, Jesús Gil decided absolutely everything, ‘above all in the areas of work, the economy and real estate’. Asked by the Prosecutor what his relationship was with the Marbella Town Hall, he replied that it was always via municipal companies.

However Roca did admit paying local councilors for their votes in the motion of no confidence against Julián Muñoz, and admitted to the judge that he was paid more than 3.5 million € in backhanders, which he described as ‘advice payments’ for projects developed in the town. He admitted that Construcciones Salamanca 740,000 € and said that Aifos, whose bosses are also on the accused bench, paid as much as 1.8 million €. He said that the accounting of Maras Asesores, was correct, and admitted that was the company he used to try and hide all his finances.

Three Gibraltar police injured in collision with Guardia Civil boat off Gibraltar

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Three Gibraltar police have been injured after their boat was in collision with a Guardia Civil vessel in the waters off the Rock on Monday night. Spanish media say the collision took place in Spanish waters close to La Línea during a joint chase of drug traffickers who were in an inflatable craft. The fact the Gibraltar and the Spanish authorities were both chasing the drug traffickers showed that in this case there is no talk of any interference having taken place between the two. Spain has repeatedly requested clear protocols to be established to avoid accidents in situations such as this. The three men were injured as a result of the impact between the two boats, and were seriously hurt. All three had fallen into the water and were rescued by the Guardia. One man with a suspected head fracture was taken to La Linea Hospital but is now at St Bernards on the rock. The other two were taken to the Punta de Europa hospital in Algeciras where they were x-rayed and cleared of fractures. An investigation is underway and it is unclear at this stage whether the drug traffickers got away. The Royal Gibraltar Police vessel is reported to be extensively damaged, including its engines. It’s the latest of a chain of incidents between the Gibraltar Police and the Spanish Guardia Civil.

Waiter found guilty of killing Ukrainian call-girl in Mijas

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THE man charged with killing and dismembering a Ukrainian call-girl in Mijas in April last year has been found guilty. The public prosecution was asking for 14 years for manslaughter and five months for desecration of the body. Alla Mefodova, 36, disappeared in Fuengirola, and police only recovered the remains of her hands. DNA tests confirmed they belonged to her. The man confessed that he had been out drinking on the night of April 5, 2010, and enlisted the services of a call-girl who identified herself as Bianca. It was the six calls he made to her phone which led police to him. He told the police they were together at his house for several hours during which they drunk a bottle of whisky and took cocaine. He claimed they began to argue, probably about money. He says that he fell asleep and doesn’t remember how the woman died, but admitted that when he saw she was dead, he went into shock, considering calling the police or committing suicide, but that instead, he took her personal belongings and clothes and burned them. Later, he bought a saw, cut her body into pieces and put them into bags which he dumped in rubbish containers in the area. He claimed to have fainted several times in the process. The waiter from Castilla-La Mancha had no criminal record and had never been accused of violent behaviour. Just a month earlier, Alla had managed to bring her 17-year-old son to Spain, after leaving him with her mother in the Ukraine when he was just seven years old. He and a close friend reported her missing.

Monday, 7 November 2011

London’s newest and most fashionable hotel bling is Whitehall’s Corinthia Hotel

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Hotels have become the newest and most luxurious of flaunt-able accessories.

Fashion houses, celebrities and the anonymous super rich want to own them and the rest of us just want to say we’ve stayed there.

London’s newest and most fashionable hotel bling is Whitehall’s Corinthia Hotel: a shiny new bauble of a five star property ensconced in a hallowed vintage building that once housed the UFO wing of MI6 (it’s true, I heard it from the hotel’s concierge). The heart of the hotel is the dome-covered lobby lounge, dressed to the 9′s with a “Full Moon” chandelier by Parisian designer Chafik Gasmi. You want to talk bling; this baby has over 1,001 twinkling crystals winking seductively as government officials, embassy big wigs and arm candy girlfriends sip gin and tonics or take afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches below.

Upstairs the rooms are lush, Frette linen-wrapped and full of fab extras like Hi Definition TV in the marble bathroom, super sleek electronic hook ups and my favorite: ESPA soaps, scrubs and shampoos in the walk in shower. ESPA fans will want to make a pilgrimage to the hotel just for the new ESPA Life SPA that covers four floors and includes an indoor pool, a vitality pool and–wait for it–an ice fountain.

Downstairs, the hotel’s two restaurants: Northhall and Massimo and the Bassoon Bar are abuzz with London’s Yummy Mummies, MP’s who work nearby and “Dragon’s Den”-like entrepreneurs who clearly feel the Corinthia is the fashion accessory of the moment. Dinining in Northhall is like a trip back in time to the glory days of the Empire with dishes on hand like Goosnargh Duck with Dauphinoise and Buttered Beans and St. Ives Seamed Lemon Sole with Cockles and Clams.

Notwithstanding all the shiny toys to play with, the Corinthia is grounded in luxe hotel 101: spot on service, quality product and a graciousness that reminds one of the old saying attributed to old school Ritz-Carlton staff: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Casares actually inherited its name from Julius Caesar, who is said to have ridden himself of a nasty skin complaint thanks to his visit to the Hedionda baths

Posted On 11:16 0 comments

For here, in this sleepy, undeveloped valley is the still-standing Roman bathhouse, where it is said Caesar himself once bathed around 60 BC.

Having survived for over 2000 years, it is a privileged place to spend an hour and the perfect reminder of the rich heritage that has been left on the Andalucian coastline by a succession of marauding cultures.

Casares actually inherited its name from Julius Caesar, who is said to have ridden himself of a nasty skin complaint thanks to his visit to the Hedionda baths, which literally translate as ‘foul-smelling woman’.

But these days there is nothing foul about the classic ‘white town’, which was first shaped by the Romans and later the Moors, who inhabited the region for over 700 years.

Perched on a rocky outcrop and pouring down two sides of a ridge, this most spectacular of Spanish towns looks impressive from every side.

A photographer’s dream, few towns can compare in terms of subject matter.

Backed by the soaring peaks of the Sierra Crestellina, and views towards the Med and Africa, Casares is also blessed with fabulous walks and wildlife, including a colony of vultures and other rare birds, including eagles.

An enterprising company has recently produced an excellent map of the nearby walks, one of which ascends straight out of the village on a steep path into the verdent hills.

Up here the views stretch all the way to Gibraltar and Africa and you will find yourself completely on your own. Well apart from the odd sheep or goat.

In fact, the town is fast becoming known for its excellent goats cheese and yoghurts. Award-winning Quesos Crestellina produces a fantastic range of organic cheeses from its herd of 400 goats that spend the day up on the peaks.

A family-run affair which dates back over a century, owners Ana and Juan run a tight ship aided by their son Juan, who does all the marketing.

“We sell the cheese all over Spain and yoghurts to the local school, as well as the five star Finca Cortesin hotel,” explains Ana, whose shop also stocks some of the region’s best quality local produce.

Head up into the village for a general wander, in particular admiring the labyrinthine Arabic quarter, with its narrow streets and low rise houses. The most impressive part is the Alcazar (or fortress) at the top of the town, first built by the Romans and later strengthened by the Moors.

From here you have spectacular views and an attractive 16th century church that has been recently renovated.

On your way down take a look out for the street Calle Carrera, where one of Andalucia’s heroes Blas Infante was born. Infante, who was shot during the Civil War, was the man who planned, forged and declared Andalucian independence (in nearby Ronda, for history buffs), before being killed at the age of 41.

Nearby Manilva also has its fair share of history. This is clear from the huge expanse of ruins – much of them Roman – that lie, largely ignored, next to the fortress at Manilva port, known as Duquesa.

It is an interesting area, including a bath house, villas and a necropolis, most of which was discovered in the late 1980s, and which one hopes will be properly excavated in the near future.

The fort itself is well worth a poke around. Built in the 1760s to protect the town against continual incursions by pirates, it is incredibly solid and earnt its builder Francisco Paulino a title and the honour of commanding a cavalry company.

It is here where the town hall of Manilva has its archaeological team, which has recently been busy investigating an exciting Roman discovery in the town.

The substantial remains of a kiln dating back to 2AD are in a good condition and were found alongside a series of fragments of pottery.

It is thought the unique design may be the only existing example in Spain and could serve as further evidence of the town’s key role in exporting ‘garum’, one of the most popular products during Roman times.

Then known as Saltum, Manilva became famous for the delicacy, a pungent paste made from fish guts.

Exported to the Eternal City of Rome via boat, it needed to be stored in well-made pots, called amphoras. And it now seems likely that the recently discovered kiln may be where these were made on an almost industrial scale.

While the centre of Manilva is not of great interest, one of the things you cannot fail to miss is the large amount of vineyards clinging to the steep slopes that drop away from the town.

Mostly Moscatel, the vines are largely for growing grapes for raisins, although in recent years there has been an attempt to return to winemaking, with some astonishingly good dessert wine.

“We have seen a lot more people interested in buying the sweet wines over the last few years,” explains local shopkeeper Maria Esteban, who sells the wine, plus a lot more local produce from her unmissable shop Frutas Pascal y Hijos on a bend on the way into town.

High speed train comes to Ronda

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THE AVE is coming to Ronda. This means significantly reduced journey times to Madrid, Granada, Cordoba, Málaga and beyond. The project also includes completing the upgrade of the line from Ronda down to Algeciras to allow for the faster trains. The announcement was made on Friday, 4 November, via a BOE, Boletín Oficial del Estado. According to this document there will be 64.4 kms. of double track electrified line of the European gauge between the existing AVE-station at Antequera-Santa Ana and La Indiana, the old station on the outskirts of Ronda where the new AVE station for Ronda will be built. The project has a budget of 711.47 million euros and will follow the route of the current single track line between Bobadilla and Ronda. However, according to the website the line will take a direct route from Setenil de las Bodegas to La Indiana, cutting out the S-loop which takes in Arriate and Ronda, and will cut through virgin countryside. The proposals are now out to public consultation and the plans can be viewed at the Town Halls in Antequera, Campillos, Teba, Cañete la Real, Almargen, Ronda, Arriate, Olvera, Alcalá y Setenil de las Bodegas, as well as in Málaga City, Cádiz and Madrid. I understand from an unnamed source that work will not commence until 2014. So peace and quiet for three more years before more new sounds are added to the local cacophony where we live. However, ignoring any NIMBY tendencies, a high speed rail link from Ronda into the rest of the AVE-network can only be a good thing for the area. With journey times to major cities cut dramatically, it can only improve the economic prospects of the area, both in terms of tourism and commerce. Real estate values in the area around La Indiana are likely to rocket as people realise it’s possible to commute from the rural idyll that is the Serranía de Ronda to Madrid and the other major cities to the north.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Work to build the new terminal on the Gibraltar side of the border is practically complete

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The joint use of the airport was agreed back in 2006

The Gibraltar border - EFEThe Gibraltar border - EFE
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The Gibraltar Government has met its obligations under the Tripartite Agreement made with the UK and Spain in Córdoba in September 2006 regarding joint use of the airport.

Work to build the new terminal on the Gibraltar side of the border is practically complete with just a freight warehouse still under construction along with facilities for private planes.

But on the Spanish side there is still a lack of agreement between AENA, the Spanish Airports Authority, and the La Línea de la Concepción Town Hall on the concession of the land which will allow the construction of the Spanish terminal. 

The Gibraltar side has spent 67 million € according to El País which notes the budget for the Spanish side is just seven million.

Gibraltar First Minister, Peter Caruana, has said there will be a gradual move to the new facilities this month.

The Spanish side is awaiting a deal for the re-establishment of flights to Madrid, or even other Spanish airports. Caruana considers that new airlines and flights will be established when the facilities are completed, and the tunnel being built under the runway is completed so traffic no longer will have to be stopped for every take off or landing.

La Linea says they want to start building as soon as possible, with plans for a three story terminal over 2,000 m2, with parking for between 300 and 400 cars. The Town Hall plans to run the car park to generate income as part of the deal with AENA. Once that deal is agreed, it’s hoped in a few days, construction will take about 12 months, and only when completed will Spain have complied with the agreement made in Córdoba back in 2006.

Too many of our gangland criminals are sitting in places like Marbella and Amsterdam, leading the rich life.

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Too many of our gangland criminals are sitting in places like Marbella and Amsterdam, leading the rich life. An initiative I instigated at European level is to try and ensure the CAB model is replicated in every European country so we have a framework in place," he said. "Those engaged in gangland in Ireland who have used their assets to acquire properties abroad will discover there's no hiding place. We'll have sister organisations in every EU country who we can rely on to secure the assets of those who have gained from their criminality." And he pledged to continue to support the work of the Garda in continuing to tackle criminals who have ruined so many lives. COMPLACENT "They have no respect for human life and that lack of respect extends to the products they sell -- the drugs they bring to the street are destroying lives in our cities and towns," he continued. "They have done it over the decades, they continue to do it and they have no concern for the lives they're destroying. "It's my job to ensure that An Garda Siochana have the resources and the support from all political parties on all levels in the work they do." He was speaking at the launch of Paul Williams' new book Badfellas which was launched at the Harcourt Hotel last night. But he said he could "never be complacent" about the fight against organised criminality. "Unfortunately as one gang disappears and a group is sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, there always seems to be another group to fill their space," he added.

National Police agents have broken up an organization dedicated to the sexual exploitation of Nigerian women in Almeria

Posted On 15:56 1 comments


National Police agents have broken up an organization dedicated to the sexual exploitation of Nigerian women in Almeria. Girls were forced into prostitution by threats, which included alleged practices of voodoo or abduction of family members. Ten people have been arrested in the Andalusian village of Roquetas de Mar in a raid in which seizures also included 20,000 euros in cash, a large number of passports of women from sub-Saharan origin and documentation relating to their criminal activity on the site of the Yegua Verde. The investigation began in late 2010 when police discovered the existence of a group of victims who had all been sexually exploited by the organization. The network, now dismantled, had been bringing women from Nigeria since 2005 and then the introducing them illegally into Spain before forcing them into prostitution. The organization, members of which were all Nigerian nationals, recruited women in various towns in Nigeria. The recruitment was carried out by relatives of the leaders of the organization. They also formed an association to attract women, called "The Nigerian Women’s Progressive Movement", through which they had even applied for grants from the Junta de Andalucía, although this was not granted. The women arrived in Spain by boat having spent many days walking through African deserts.  The victims were transported by land with false documents from Nigeria to Morocco, crossing through many other African countries such as Benin, Niger, Mali and Algeria. Once on the Moroccan coast, the organization made contact with citizens of Morocco, who in exchange for large sums of money, provided them with places on a boat which made the journey across to the peninsula. During this journey which could often last several months, the girls suffered numerous tragedies. After crossing the strait, and once in Spain, the network took many of the victims to Roquetas de Mar (Almería) where they were forced into prostitution with constant beatings and threats. Among the forms used by the criminals to coerce the women were included alleged practices of voodoo by which method they were made toto submit their will to the control of the organization. They were also threatened with the kidnap of their families in Spain and Nigeria. Debts of up to 50,000 euros The women were forced to work for more than two years until they eventually obtained freedom having paid of debt which could easily amount to 50,000 euros, although, depending on how the victims might behave they would often find the cost of their living expenses, clothing or other support dramatically increased. As a result of painstaking research, carried out by a National Police operation in Roquetas de Mar ten members of the network, six men and four women, have now been arrested and charged. In addition, agents found four homes and a brothel located in the Paraje de la Yegua Verde where they also found involved 20,000 euros in cash, numerous sub-Saharan women's passports, a large amount of documentation relating to the sexual exploitation of the women and various instruments of voodoo. The Police were assisted in their investigation by members of the Central UCRIF led by the Commissioner General of Immigration and Borders at the Provincial Police Station UCRIF Almeria.

two Ferraris in one, with all the extra opportunities for enjoyment that brings

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Price: About £198,850 
Engine: 4,499cc, V8 cylinders, 570bhp 
Transmission: Seven-speed sequential gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 199mph, 0-62 in 3.4sec, 21.2mpg official average, CO2 307g/km

In the minds of some, this should not be allowed. That it is suggests that the EU compliance office responsible for certifying vehicle-noise levels has a local branch in Ferrari's home of Maranello, staffed by ex-Ferrari employees. How else can I be sending gloriously explosive soundwaves of fuel-combustion across the valleys of Emilia-Romagna in a brand new, fully certified Ferrari? And discover that, contrary to the likely response in the UK, the locals smile and wave at the source of the sound?

As for me, I'm hearing it in better Sensurround than ever before, as this new version of the 458 Italia is currently roofless. It is called 458 Spider, but unlike previous Spider versions of mid-engined V8 Ferraris, it has not a fabric convertible roof but a hard one made of two flat aluminium panels. Their folding is electro-hydraulically powered, of course.

So the new open Spider is a coupé-cabriolet (CC), which instantly brings notions of extra weight and aesthetic challenge. Few CCs are genuinely good-looking, although the job is easier when there are just two seats and thus a shorter roof. And with the roof in place, the Spider looks much like the Italia coupé. The only obvious differences are the lack of the small rear quarter windows and a different rear deck: while the coupé has a large, sloping rear window through which you can see the engine, the Spider has a vertical rear window immediately behind the occupants and the engine is covered by the panel under which the roof sits when folded. The engine's air intakes are repositioned, too, under slots in the rear deck. Just as well, as leaving them near your ears would be too much of a good thing with roof stowed.

In Race mode, rather than the usual Sport mode, the loudness is on offer all the time, which it is not in the coupé. Ferrari figures that those who buy the open car are especially likely to want to hear the engine, but there are times in towns when the inevitable attention can get embarrassing. Best to keep Race for open spaces. Or tunnels, in which a blast up to the 9,000rpm point of peak power and peak screaming is irresistible.

How much power? An extraordinary 570bhp, making it ridiculously rapid. There is also very strong pulling power from relatively low engine speeds, and gear shifts, the work of a near-instant via shift levers either side of the steering column, are inherently smooth.

As I squirt the Spider through bend after bend, revelling in its grip, thrilling to little tail-slides as I squeeze the power, there's an occasional tremor through the steering column, but that's as far as the disturbance goes. The structure is significantly more rigid than the old F430 Spider's, and it feels it. With side windows up and the little rear window set to the optimal midway position, there's not much buffeting from the wind, either. This is as close to the perfect open Ferrari as it's possible to get.

The Spider has to be stationary to open the roof, but 14 seconds of aluminium choreography later the roof is closed. Now it's just like the coupé inside, albeit 30kg heavier and the view over your shoulder almost non-existent. But, at speed, the roof proves a fine piece of engineering. There is practically no wind noise at all, such is its sealing.

This is truly two Ferraris in one, with all the extra opportunities for enjoyment that brings – even if having the second personality facet does demand an extra £25,675. If you can afford an Italia coupé, though, you can probably run to a Spider. In which case, do it.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Ricky Martin and Benicio del Toro now have Spanish nationality.

Posted On 22:53 0 comments

The concessions were granted by the Spanish cabinet on Friday

Benicio del Toro and Ricky Martin - Archive photos EFEBenicio del Toro and Ricky Martin - Archive photos EFE
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Ricky Martin and Benicio del Toro now have Spanish nationality. The news of the concession was given by the Government on Friday to the artists who were both born in Puerto Rico. 

Spokesman José Blanco made the announcement after the Friday cabinet meeting.
He said that the two ‘recognised in different artistic facets’ wanted to share their Spanish nationality with all the Spanish people and therefore the Government congratulated them for it.
There is widespread speculation that the decision will allow Ricky Martin to marry his boyfriend, the economist Carlos González, in Spain.

Also granted nationality on Friday was Yisi Pérez, wife of the El País journalist, Mauricio Vicent, whose accreditation as a correspondent in Cuba was removed by the Cuban authorities. 

Read more:

Ricky Martin granted Spanish citizenship

Posted On 22:46 0 comments


Puerto Rican pop singer Ricky Martin was given Spanish citizenship today, the country’s government said. The star, who came out in 2009 reportedly wants to take advantage of Spain’s gay marriage laws. Spokesman Jose Blanco told a news conference that ministers had agreed to grant him a “letter of naturalization”, issued in special circumstances, because of his “personal and professional links with Spain”. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Martin sought citizenship in order to marry boyfriend Carlos Gonzalez Abella, with whom he is bringing up his twin three-year-old sons. Spain passed legislation allowing same-sex marriages in 2005, only the third country to do so at the time, with 20,000 gay couples entering into marriage since. Appearing on the Larry King show last year, he had said: “I would get married… There are many countries around the world where same-sex marriage is a right. Not in Puerto Rico, unfortunately. And not in many states in America. “Yes, we could go to Spain and get married. We can go to Argentina and get married. But why do we have to go somewhere else? Why can’t I do it in my country where the laws are – you know, protecting me?” He added: “I can go to Spain. I have many friends in Spain. And get married. And make it very beautiful and symbolic. But… I [can't] do it in the backyard of my house. I want to have that option. I don’t want to be a second class citizen anymore. I pay my taxes. Why can’t I have that right?

Robert Dawes was finally arrested in Dubai on an international warrant but is now living free on the Costa del Sol.

Posted On 22:32 0 comments


Robert Dawes

For five years a man named in a British court as "the general" has been pursued by detectives in a multimillion-pound operation.

Over the past decade Robert Dawes has moved from a two-up, two-down terraced house on an estate outside Nottingham to a base in Dubai and finally to a villa on the Costa del Sol.

Police believe he has left a trail of destruction as one of the heads of acrime syndicate that flooded the UK with millions of pounds of cocaine, heroin and cannabis. He has been identified in nine UK investigations involving large scale shipments.

Dawes is wanted in the Netherlands in connection with the murder of a teacher, Gerard Meesters; in Spain, where police have identified him as "the boss of an important English drug trafficking organisation"; and in the UK, where Nottinghamshire detectives are seeking him over the alleged commissioning of the murder of David Draycott in October 2002.

So when investigators from the Serious Organised Crime Agency, working with Spain's Guardia Civil, had Dawes secured in a Madrid prison this spring to face trial over the seizure of 200kg of cocaine, the belief was that the reign of a man described by Soca as a "highly significant international criminal" had ended.

But the Guardian has discovered that Spanish judges have been forced to drop the trial and free 39-year-old Dawes because the British authorities had failed to respond for months to a request for assistance.

Dawes is now back in his enormous villa near Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol with his wife and three children, enjoying his freedom.

After Dawes's release a few weeks ago, the Spanish courts issued a statement which made clear their hand had been forced by the failure of the British to respond to a request for documents sent in April through the highest diplomatic channels.

"The provincial court in Madrid has revoked the indictment of Robert Dawes ... and so he is at liberty," the statement said. "The magistrates ... understand that... it is necessary to wait for a response from the Commission of Dubai, with reference to the searches in the case, and, above all, the Commission of the United Kingdom.

"When the judicial authorities of those countries respond with evidence the case will be taken up again, but neither of the two commissions has yet commented and there is no indication of when they might do so."

Soca officials have been left embarrassed by the bureaucratic bungling. They say the request via a letter rogatory – the official method of requesting assistance between countries – was only received by the Home Office in August before being forwarded on to them in the same month.

The letter rogatory was sent to the Home Office via Eurojust, an organisation based in The Hague that is supposed to speed up co-operation on major criminal investigations between EU countries.

Asked by the Guardian this week about the case, Soca officials said they were planning to send an official to hand deliver the documents. A spokesman said: "We are supporting this Spanish-led investigation. Upon receipt of their request for evidence we took immediate action, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, to collate the material required.

"This process must take into account various legal and operational issues but it is Soca's intention to provide the material to the Spanish at the very earliest opportunity."

But it is not the first time that Dawes has slipped through the net, and some of his former associates have refused to co-operate with the authorities in the past because they believed he was an "asset" who was being protected.

Dawes grew up on the Leamington estate in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, and is thought to have began his criminal career in the 1990s working as an enforcer. By 2000 his name was cropping up in investigations from Scotland to London, where he is known to have associated with some of the UK's most notorious crime syndicates including the London-based Adams family.

By this time Dawes and his brother John – later jailed for 24 years for drug dealing and money laundering – had allegedly moved into large scale shipments of heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis.

In the Netherlands he became known in thousands of phone taps carried out by Dutch police as the "Derbyman".

In 2001, fearing the police net was closing in, Dawes left the UK for the Mijas Costa area of Spain – but could not resist making fleeting trips back to his old estate where he still owned two terraced houses that had been knocked together.

Soca began Operation Halbert in 2006 to target Dawes and his lieutenants. In August 2007 they seized £13m worth of drugs including 65kg of heroin in a major raid in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire. A month later, after receiving intelligence from Soca, officers from the Guardia Civil drug unit seized almost 200kg of cocaine just outside Madrid that was allegedly linked to Dawes.

But by then Dawes had fled Spain to set up a base in Dubai. He was eventually extradited in April this year to face trial in Madrid until his release by the Spanish a few weeks ago.

Italy government hangs by thread as coalition crumbles

Posted On 15:29 87 comments


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's fate hung by a thread Friday and desertions from his crumbling centre-right coalition may have already robbed him of the parliamentary numbers he needs to survive. Berlusconi, caught in the crossfire from European powers and a party revolt at home, agreed at a G20 summit in France to IMF monitoring of economic reforms which he has long promised but failed to implement. But this may soon be irrelevant for the Italian leader, who will return to Rome later Friday to face what looks increasingly like a deadly rebellion by his own supporters. With financial markets in turmoil over the situation in Greece and Italy viewed as the next domino to fall in the euro zone crisis, calls are mounting for a new government to carry through reforms convincing enough to regain international confidence. Berlusconi has consistently rejected calls to resign and says the only alternative to him is an early election next spring, rather than the technocrat or national unity government urged by many politicians and commentators. Yields on 10-year Italian bonds reached 6.36 percent by early afternoon, creeping closer to 7 percent, a level which could trigger a so-called "buyers' strike" where investors take fright and refuse to buy the paper. Two deputies from Berlusconi's PDL party this week defected to the centrist UDC, taking his support in the 630-seat lower house of parliament to 314 compared with the 316 he needed to win a confidence vote last month. But at least seven other former loyalists have called for a new government and could vote against the 75-year-old media magnate. "The (ruling) majority seems to be dissolving like a snowman in spring," said respected commentator Stefano Folli in the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. Other commentators spoke of an "inexorable" revolt against Berlusconi. Even Defence Ministry undersecretary Guido Crosetto, a Berlusconi loyalist, said on television: "I don't know how many days or weeks the government has left. Certainly a majority relying on a few votes cannot continue for long." PATRONAGE Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men, still has significant powers of patronage and he and his closest aides are expected to spend the weekend trying to win back support for a parliamentary showdown Tuesday. Some rebels have already threatened to vote against Berlusconi in the vote to sign off on the 2010 budget. Berlusconi faced concerted calls to resign when he lost a previous vote on this routine measure, which was almost unprecedented. Although it is not a confidence motion, he would come under huge pressure if he suffered a second defeat. "Unpopular prescriptions are necessary and this challenge cannot be faced with a 51 percent government," said UDC leader Pier Ferdinando Casini, in a reference to Berlusconi's weakness and a widespread feeling that the reforms can only be passed with a broad consensus. The premier has promised European leaders that he will call a formal confidence motion within 15 days to pass amendments to a budget bill incorporating new measures to stimulate growth and cut Italy's huge debt. That will be in the Senate where he has a more solid majority but it could still bring him down. Berlusconi, beset by a string of sex scandals and court cases, has consistently resisted pressure from groups ranging from a powerful business lobby to the Catholic Church to stand down.

The Sierra de la Nieves is surrounded by a belt of nine villages

Posted On 11:54 0 comments

The Sierra de la Nieves is surrounded by a belt of nine villages, all of which are bound by common characteristics and history that have served to create a region with a strong local identity within the province of Malaga.
Situated in strategic locations, much of their charm is derived from the architecture of their old village centres, which is based on the Arabic model. The visitor can best appreciate the villages by losing himself in their winding, maze like streets and admiring their whitewashed houses. The arrival of the Christians saw the introduction of large squares and straight streets. As a result, in addition to fountains and plants, these mountain villages still retain the typical low walls built to level out the land and facilitate acess to houses built on slopes.

As far as fauna is concerned, the Sierra de las Nieves boasts a number of indigenous species of great importance, as well as being a key port of call on the migratory routes of many birds.
Numerically speaking, the invertebrates are the largest group to be found in one area. One such creature worthy of special mention by virtue of both its peculiarity and its heavy dependance on the Spanish fir for its survival is the small butterfly known as the Dioryctria.
Fish such as barbel, bogue, rainbow trout, carp and black bass will delight anglers in locations such as the River Verde reservoir in Istan, where they co-exist alongside amphibians such as the San Antonio frog, the running toad and the speckled newt.
A wilder, more exotic touch is provided by reptiles such as the freshwater tortoise, the snake and the snub-nosed viper, as well as Iberian birds of prey, notably the golden eagle, the tawny vulture, the goshawk, the sparrowhawk and the peregrine falcon, while bats are the most significant of the cave dwellers. However, standing proudly on the mountain peaks, pride of place among all of these species goes to the mountain goat.
The Biosphere Reserve
Locations rich in natural beauty, ecosystems to be found nowhere else in the world and the habitat of extremely rare animal species as the mountain goat. These were just a few of the reasons that led UNESCO to declare the Sierra de la Nieves Biosphere Reserve on the 15th June, 1995. Proof of the importance of UNESCO's MAB programme was provided by the award of the prestigious Prince of Asturias Harmony Prize in 2001.
This living showcase, a model of co-existence between man and nature, encompasses both the Natural Park itself and the surrounding area, a total of 93,930 hectares. It consists of the entire municipal area of the villages of Alozaina, Casarabonela, El Burgo, Guaro, Istan, Monda, Ojen, Parauta, Tolox, Yunquera and part of Ronda.
Its geological complexity means that the area is home to a number of sharply contrasting landscapes. So, on the one hand we have the white limestone rock of the Sierras Blancas, karstic formations, teeming with canyons, caves, galleries and potholes, and on the other, the red of the Sierra Bermejas. The former is home to two of the deepest potholes in Andalusia which are also among the largest in Europe: GESM and El Aire.

Apart from its unique geographical relief, the characteristic that best typifies this International Reserve is its rich flora. The combination of different climatic conditions that prevail here mean that it is home to a variety of species, ranging from sub-tropical examples such as the palmetto and the arbutus to forests or confiers. Spanish fir groves, mountain gall oaks and laburnums.

However, star billing, botanically speaking, in this mountain range (and, indeed, pride of place overall, along with the mountain goat) must go to the Spanishg fir. Its conical form and dark green colour make it unmistakable among the multitude of other species to be found in the region, which include a wide variety of pines, the yew tree, the holm oak, the cork oak and a number of roiver-bank species, not forgetting the mountain gall oak. Colour and beauty are provided by the flowers that grow in the mountains, such as the peony, the mountain rose, the foxglove, the orchid, the iris and the narcissus.

The Spanish Fir
The pinsapo, as it is known in Spanish, is a conifer belonging to the fir tree family whose origins date back to the end of the last glacier period and which is considered the oldest of all the indigenous Mediterranean firs. The Sierra de la Nieves is home to the largest concentration of this botanical treasure to be found anywhere in the world. This ancient tree, whose cross shaped branches were once carried as amulets during Corpus Christi processions, is notable for its characteristic pyramidal form, its greyish, slightly cracked bark and its smallm stiff leaves.
A number of curiosities surround this beautiful botanical species, whose varieties include the blue Spanish fir, so called in reference to the bluish hue of its leaves, and the candelabra variety. In fact, it is even thought that the masts of many of the vessels that made up the Spanish Armada weere built from this highly valued wood.
The Snow Sellers
In one profession could be said to have typified the Sierra de la Nieves for centuries, then it would be that of the snow seller. This arduous job began at the end of the winter, when teams of men would spend several days on the highest peaks gathering snow in panniers before taking it to pits, where it was pressed and compacted to form ice. The pits were then covered up until summer, when muleteers with their beasts of burden would transport the ice in large blocks to be sold.
The ice, which was used both to conserve food and medication and to make ice creams, was considered a luxury item and provided an important source of commercial and economic activity in the area. The visitor can still find restored ice pits in the villages of Yunquera and Tolox.
The Queen Of The Peaks
The most typical and representative of all the living species that inhabit the Sierra de la Nieves is without doubt the mountain goat, an animal that teetered on the brink of extinction in the mid XX century, when its numbers shrank to just 20, all of which inhabited the Ojen area.
It was for this reason that the species was granted official protection, the area being declared a National Hunting Reserve in order to facilitate the animal's recovery.
Today, the population comes to some 1,500 goats, the animal is the most prized and diifcult to attain of all Spain's big game prey, not to mention one of the rarest species in the whole world, not being found outside of Spain.
Such is the importance of the animal and the extent to which it is associated with this region that attractive metal statues of this impressive beast can be found both at Puerto Rico viewpoint in Ojen, the viewpoint in Refugio de Juanar and near the health spa in Tolox.

six-year-old female falcons have proved an unmitigated hit through the Alicante portion of the Volvo Ocean Race

Posted On 11:08 0 comments


Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team certainly has a strong Abu Dhabi flavour.


ALICANTE, Spain // Fern and Ying sat unvisited in the front right corner on Thursday midday. They appeared to relish the solitude even as they declined to comment.

These six-year-old female falcons have proved an unmitigated hit through the Alicante portion of the Volvo Ocean Race, the lines to pose with them often snaking out the door and down the wharf.

"Since I've been here, in three weeks we've done just under 10,000 photographs," said Bryan Paterson, their English owner and handler. "Three weeks. A bit mad, really."

As the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and its chairman, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, have envisioned the Volvo Ocean Race as a fresh way to introduce Abu Dhabi to the world, the pavilion here on the Mediterranean shore has done likewise in microcosm. Nicknamed the "Oasis", it has joined with all the other temporary structures in a temporary neighbourhood.

From left to right, they line the shore in front of the six boats that will make off for the ocean on Saturday: Puma (the American sporting-gear company), then Telefonica (Spanish telecommunications giant), followed by the Volvo pavilion itself, then Abu Dhabi, Groupama (French insurance company), Sanya (a second tourism concern, this time for the Chinese resort island) and Camper (Spanish footwear company).

All along, the longest lines have formed outside Abu Dhabi's vivid red structure, owing to Fern and Ying, and to a booth at which people have their names written in Arabic, and to another booth drawing hand tattoos. Cost to visitors: zero.



"From our perspective, it has been great, a useful platform to host our guests," said Carla Nebreda, of the ADTA communications team. "It's a great venue to showcase Abu Dhabi."

Last Thursday, for example, ADTA held a gathering as the skipper Ian Walker introduced the crew, providing a bit of insight into each sailor.

Adil Khalid and Butti Al Muhairi, the Emirati sailor and Emirati reserve sailor and Shore Team member, welcomed guests and answered interviewers' questions.

"This has been interesting for people," said Khalid, all set for his first ocean race. "They like to see what Abu Dhabi looks like, and the falcon, that's our heritage. And the handwriting, they love that and they say they're going to post it in their room." The 23-year-old Khalid stopped through to greet visitors and pose for photos at times when not out in the bay or at the row of team base camps that lines the jutting edge of the shore. Visitors have asked one predominant question, according to Paterson, who brought his falcons from England as quarantine regulations mandate that they hail from Europe.



"They ask you what the connection is," Paterson said. "And so I explain a little about a thousand years of hunting in the desert." Often he explains that on the yacht just steps out the door, a sail showcases a falcon emblem.

The pavilion is two-storey, with its front lobby anchored by a glass-encased replica of the Abu Dhabi village constructed for the third stopover of the 10-stop race. It has a kitchen and an air-conditioned meeting area. Paul Fox, a contractor working for M-Sport, the motorsport company that delivers the pavilion materials, said assembly of the structure required eight men. Almost immediately after the Abu Dhabi yacht Azzam shoves off to sea on Saturday, they will begin the fine art of deconstruction, which will require two to three days.

The entire edifice will fit into three containers, Fox said. From there, this very pavilion will turn up at stopovers in Sanya, China (the fourth), and Lorient, France (the ninth). That means it is likely that Fox will drive it all the way to China and all the way back to France, itself a global adventure, and that Fern and Ying might well turn up again in France. "The birds are really good," Fox said. "They don't bite you or anything."


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