Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2019 12:41:50 +0100

Madrid, March 4, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of wildfires raged across northern Spain Monday, fuelled by strong, dry winds and warm temperatures, local officials said, unusual in a region that is normally rainy, especially in winter.   Some 300 firefighters and soldiers backed by nine water-dropping aircraft battled 99 forest fire burning across the Asturias region, local emergency services said, while another 18 blazes raged in neighbouring Cantabria.   The fires were being fed by strong southerly winds, with gusts of up to 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour, and unusually warm temperatures for this time of the year, local officials said. No injuries were reported.

Temperatures hit 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday in Gijon, the largest city in Asturias, according to national weather office Aemet.   All of Asturias faced either an "very high" or "extreme" risk of wildfires on Monday, the region's government said.   The president of the regional government of Cantabria, Miguel Angel Revilla, urged locals to be vigilant, warning that Tuesday's forecast was for more "very strong winds" from the south.   Spain is prone to wildfires in summer, especially in the more arid southern regions and along its Mediterranean coastline.   But such incidents are unusual in winter, especially in rainier northern regions such as Asturias and Cantabria.
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2019 21:48:02 +0100
By Daniel BOSQUE

Barcelona, Feb 21, 2019 (AFP) - Activists blocked roads and rail lines in Catalonia on Thursday while tens of thousands took to the streets during a region-wide strike against the trial of separatist leaders for their role in a failed 2017 secession attempt.   On Thursday evening 40,000 people rallied along one of Barcelona's major avenues, police said, while earlier around 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the central University Square, where the city's oldest university stands.   Four people were arrested with 37 people injured in clashes including six police.    Called by a small pro-independence union, Intersindical CSC, but without the backing of larger unions, the one-day strike was not widely followed in the northeastern region.   Public transport in Barcelona was slower than usual but most shops remained open.

Traffic authorities in Catalonia said activists cut off around 20 roads, including the A7 highway that links Spain to France, the A2 between Madrid and Barcelona and the main entry points to the Mediterranean city.   Police cleared several of the road blocks and detained two protesters, a spokesman said.   Activists also briefly blocked train traffic by occupying the tracks at a station in Barcelona and in other parts of the region, according to the company that manages Spain's rail network.   "We're here in solidarity with those who are victims of a trial that just doesn't hold water," said Jaume Sole, a 45-year-old engineer

- 'Politically-motivated' -
The Catalan employers' association has denounced the work stoppage as politically motivated.   Separatist parties and associations are backing it.   They began mobilising last week in solidarity with the Catalan separatist leaders on trial for pushing a secession referendum in October 2017 in defiance of a court ban, and a subsequent short-lived declaration of independence.

On Saturday, around 200,000 people including regional president Quim Torra protested in central Barcelona, police said, behind a banner that read "self-determination is not a crime."   Torra's separatist executive has expressed solidarity with the strike and cancelled all official events planned for Thursday.   The trial of the Catalan separatists started on February 12 under intense domestic and foreign scrutiny.   It was due to last three months but the court on Wednesday sped up the process to try and finish the trial before snap general elections on April 28.

Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium soon after the declaration of independence on October 27, 2017, is not among the defendants as Spain doesn't judge people in absentia for major offences.   So far, those on trial have defended the peaceful nature of the secession movement.   They have justified holding the referendum on a democratic mandate they say they got from voters in Catalonia who handed separatist parties a majority in 2015 polls.   This prompted unusually outspoken comments from King Felipe VI on Wednesday who said it was "unacceptable to appeal to a so-called democracy that is above the law."

- 'Criminalising' a protest -
Defendants have also said the proclamation of independence was a mere political declaration without legal effect.   On Thursday, Santi Vila, a regional government member at the time, said the referendum was actually "a big political mobilisation" rather than a plebiscite given the Constitutional Court had banned it.   "It was about tightening the rope without it breaking," Vila, who faces up to seven years in jail for misuse of public funds and disobedience, told the court.   Prosecutors accuse the defendants of implementing a strategy concerted by the regional government, parliament and pro-independence associations to achieve secession outside the law.   They accuse nine of them of rebellion, a serious offence that implies a "violent uprising."

Prosecutors point for instance to damage made to police cars during a pre-referendum protest on September 20, 2017, or claim separatists used citizens as "human walls" against police dispatched to stop the referendum.   Independence supporters and the defendant's lawyers, however, argue there was never any violence.   Jordi Sanchez, head of the powerful ANC pro-independence association who was at the protest on September 20 and faces up to 17 years in prison, accused prosecutors of "criminalising and penalising a demonstration."
Date: Wed 20 Feb 2019, 2:13 PM CET
Source: El Pais in English [edited]
<https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/02/20/inenglish/1550655774_604104.html>

An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of death of a 46-year-old woman, who became ill after eating at a one-star Michelin restaurant called RiFF in Valencia. A total of 23 other patrons, including the victim's husband and 12-year-old son, also fell sick after the meal but their symptoms were mild and they have reportedly all recovered. The case was confirmed by regional health chief Ana Barcela, who expressed her condolences to the family and said that an investigation was already underway. "We've conducted a primary inspection of the establishment and everything appears to be normal," she said. "Analytical tests will now be carried out on the food products."

Barcela explained that the regional public health department will be in charge of the investigation and for determining the causes behind the woman's death. According to sources from the regional health department, the food poisoning outbreak was reported on [Sun 17 Feb 2019], after the 3 family members fell ill. They began to show symptoms of food poisoning - vomiting and diarrhoea - on [Sat 16 Feb 2019]. According to Europa Press, the father and son recovered but the woman's symptoms were more severe, and she died in her home early on the following morning. The investigation into the death revealed that a total of 9 patrons had experienced illness, mainly vomiting, after eating at the same restaurant.

Subsequently, it emerged that a further 14 people had also suffered light symptoms. "17 people have been interviewed, of whom 14 stated that they had some kind of mild symptoms," explained regional health chief Ana Barceló today, [Wed 20 Feb 2019]. "The samples that have been collected over the last few days have been sent to the National Toxicology Institute to be analyzed." Public health officials inspected the restaurant on [Mon 18 Feb 2019], but did not find any problems that could have contributed to the food poisoning. Investigators also collected samples of ingredients and raw food products that were part of the menu, and are currently analyzing them.

Barcela added that at this point she could not confirm whether the sickness had been caused by morel mushrooms that were on the restaurant's menu. "We will have to wait for the autopsy to be carried out on the woman before we can determine whether it was the ingestion of a food that directly caused her death, or whether it prompted a state that led to this fatal outcome, or if she had an existing condition," she explained on [Wed 20 Feb 2019].

Forensic teams are working to determine whether she could have been poisoned by something she ate, or whether she may have choked on her own vomit. In a statement, the owner of RiFF, Bernd H. Knaller, announced that the restaurant will remain closed until the cause of the food poisoning outbreak is determined and "activities can resume with full assurances for the staff and the patrons." The owner said he has been cooperating with the regional health department on the investigation and pointed out that the inspection "showed that the restaurant complies with all sanitary regulations." He added: "Regardless of what caused the situation, I want to convey my deep regret for what happened, and I hope all of the facts will be clarified shortly." [Byline: Cristina Vazquez]
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2019 00:11:39 +0100

Madrid, Feb 17, 2019 (AFP) - Regional authorities in northern Spain said Sunday they were battling around 50 fires, some of which were deliberately set.   By end of Sunday, 48 fires were still active, a statement from the government of the Cantabria region said.   "During the day we counted 50 fires, and 760 people from different administrations working to put them out," the statement added.

Since the first fires broke out on Thursday in the mountainous region, no people have been injured and "most of the fires took place in inaccessible areas and have not put the population or infrastructure in danger," the government added.   Two people have been arrested, the head of the Cantabria region, Miguel Angel Revilla, said on Spanish television, adding that there have been "no injuries, only five people have been evacuated" from the area.
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2019 18:22:12 +0100

Madrid, Jan 28, 2019 (AFP) - Spanish riot police used cranes on Monday to clear a major thoroughfare in Madrid that was blocked by striking taxi drivers.   The drivers have been on strike since last week to demand tighter regulations for app-based ride-hailing services like Uber.   Dozens of riot police wearing crash helmets and carrying shields descended on the central Paseo de la Castellana and with the aid of the cranes removed taxis which were blocking the key boulevard which runs north-south through the Spanish capital.

Despite the tension between the taxi drivers and police, there was no violence.   After the first vehicles were removed, drivers at the head of the column of taxis slowly started to drive away while honking their horns, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.   Like their counterparts in many other European countries, Spain's taxi drivers say that ride-hailing apps like Uber, or its main Spanish rival Cabify, have made it impossible to compete.

Madrid taxi drivers began an open-ended strike on January 21 and had threatened to block traffic in the Spanish capital on Monday with the help of others who have joined them from cities across Spain.   "The legitimate right to strike does not include the right to paralyse the city," the central government's representative in the Madrid region, Jose Manuel Rodriguez Uribes, wrote on Twitter.   Taxi drivers later protested outside of the headquarters of the conservative Popular Party (PP), which governs the Madrid region and is responsible for rules regarding taxi and ride-hailing services, before heading to the airport.

They then gathered outside the headquarters of Madrid's regional government in the central Sol square.   The strike will last "as long as it needs", taxi driver Angel Vallejo told AFP outside the PP headquarters.   "We have nothing to lose, We are already lost. Things can't get worse, so we are going to fight until we are exhausted," he added.

Last week Barcelona taxi drivers called off a six-day strike after the regional government of Catalonia unveiled new regulations which make it possible for cities in the region to require customers of ride-hailing services to book a ride at least an hour in advance.   But the head of the regional government of Madrid, Angel Garrido, has refused to adopt the same measure, saying that Catalonia is "heading to the Middle Ages" with such a solution.   Uber and Cabify have said that the regulations planned by Catalonia will put them out of business on the northeastern region.
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