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30 Oct 2011

Two British tour operators who come to Spain go bust


Two British tour operators who bring tourists to Spain have gone bust. Romano Travel ceased operations on October 26, a day after Airborn Limited. Romano Travel specialized in package holidays to Spain and Turkey and had been operating for 30 years. There were no more than half of dozen or so pending bookings from the Buckinghamshire firm which was fully protected with an ATOL licence and was a member of ABTA. Airborn Limited operated as Airborn Direct and Holiday Hero, and was based in Romford, Essex. It sold packages to Spain, Cyprus and Turkey, and sold its products to other operators. The CAA says there are many clients who have purchased flights with the firm using a credit card, and these flights should be operating normally. If in doubt passengers can confirm with the airline.

Spain no longer the main destination for Brit's second homes


A new survey carried out by the HomeAway holiday rentals company and real estate group Savills International has concluded that Spain is no longer the first choice among the Brits for their second residence. 1,700 British property buyers were questioned. More Britons now prefer France because of its better economic stability and the moderation in its house prices. 40% of Brits who buy in Spain later rent out the property, sometimes obtaining an income of as much as 34,500 € a year, but 24% still say that Spain is the place they have chosen for retirement. Despite the change away from purchasing a second home, Spain continues to be the most popular holiday destination for the Brits. In France, Italy and Switzerland the British purchasers usually opt for restored old properties, while in the United States, Cyprus and also in Spain and Portugal, they tend to go for more modern or new constructions.

Malaga on the Mediterranean coast, in the Southern Spanish region of Andalucia, was the city you avoided

The city of Malaga on the Mediterranean coast, in the Southern Spanish region of Andalucia, was the city you avoided. An industrial port encircled by a tired ring of Franco-era low-rise apartment buildings, it was always the city tourists dashed by on their way to Torremolinos or Marbella further down the Costa Del Sol.

Being out of favor from the 1970s onwards – when torrid overbuilding ruined the Spanish coast – has served Malaga well, and the tired city around the old port has gone through a revival in recent years: The pedestrian-only squares and streets are washed clean, filled with a mix of fashionable shops selling Ermenegildo Zegna suits and Omega watches, and old men hawking lotto tickets and blanched Andalucian almonds wrapped in paper cones—all in the shadow of the city’s baroque cathedral where the 17th century choir stalls are carved from mahogany and cedar.

The city is still no great beauty, but its unpretentious charm stems from the fact it remains a middle-class working port. The first night I arrived I dined on a plate ofpata negra (thinly-cut slices of cured ham, with a rich marble of fat, made from black pigs that feed on acorns) and some grilled sea bream served with French-cut beans. As I drank my copa de vino tinto, contentedly observing the town’s life from the sidewalk café, a guitar-banging gypsy dashed by, twitchy as a heroin addict, followed by an old man selling to local tapas bars the snails slowly crawling the walls of his white bucket.

Two newly-opened institutions have greatly contributed to Malaga’s cultural revival. The crowd-puller is the Picasso Museum, and I am sure it is a lovely collection, but, in all honesty, I couldn’t bear to see yet another second-tier Picasso Museum. (The Spanish painter, for all his greatness, would have benefitted considerably from being a little less prolific.)

My interest was, however, very much piqued by the new museum housing the collection of Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon.

The Thyssen family, dating back to the 17th century, famously made their fortune supplying the industrializing German state with steel. But they were also great collectors of art, and the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza aggressively added works to his father’s stacks of Old Masters until the family’s 1,600-strong collection became the second largest private art collection in the world, second only to the British Royal Family Collection.

Ranging from Hans Holbein to Edward Hopper, the collection was originally housed in the family’s Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland. (The Thyssen family left Germany for Switzerland in the 1930s.) In the mid 1980s, however, the Swiss unwisely barred the baron from expanding his museum at Villa Favorita—they were unimpressed he wanted to show more of his collection to the public.

Enter Spain. In 1985 the baron married his 5th wife, Carmen Cervera, a former Miss Cataluna, just as his battle with Swiss small-mindedness was heating up. The Catalan beauty was instrumental in getting her husband to move his art collection to more flexible Spain, where it now sits in its own museum next to the Prado in Madrid.

But Baroness Carmen Thyssen herself began collecting in the late 1980s, all under her husband’s tutelage, and she focused on Andalucian art of the mid-19th to early 20th century. It was this collection, critically praised throughout Spain when it was first exhibited in the late 1990s, which was squirreled away in the newly-converted palace called the Museo CarmenThyssen Málaga.

The mid-19th century Andalucian works in the collection were largely painted for middle-class European tourists of the day who wanted to return to London and Paris with reminders of their Andalucian holidays. So the first floor of the museum is devoted to these so-calledColumbrista painters, and provides a panoply of chocolate box scenes of idealized Andalucian landscape romanticism: sultry gypsy dancers and battling bandoleros in mountain caves and young fishermen wooing flower girls.

But as the 19th century progresses, so does the sophistication of the paintings. Two paintings in particular stayed with me long afterwards: the dark Columbrista painting of 1851 by the Frenchman, Alfred Dehodencq, painted for the duke occupying the Palace of San Telmo. It’s of a procession through the town during Holy Week. Hooded monks, like an all-black vision of the Ku Klux Klan, are the candle-carrying advance guard of the Mater Dolorosa, and they walk a gauntlet of rapturous women in black mantillas. Powerful stuff.

Later, in 1867, the Spaniard Mariàno Fortuny Marsal painted a bullfight with quick, almost impressionistic brushstrokes that seems to foreshadow what is yet to come in the art world. Called Exquisite Realism, or the Précieux Style, the intense brushstrokes of the “Bullfight” give a blurry sense of speed and movement at the breath-holding moment when a gored picador is carried dying from the ring and another picador is trying to weaken the bull with the hard thrust of his lance. It’s hard to tell who is going to live or die, and it’s a very modern work, in a 19th century way.

Five arrested for road rage attack in Madrid


National Police have arrested five people, two of them underage, for a brutal road rage attack in a tunnel on the M-30 motorway in September. They were taken into custody after they were identified on video footage from security cameras in the tunnel. The aggressors were travelling in two vehicles on the evening of September 17, and were seen on film chasing another car into the tunnel, speeding ahead and cutting across it to bring it to a halt. The eight occupants of the two cars are then seen getting out of their vehicles and dragging the three people travelling in the third car out onto the roadway. They are beaten and kicked, and their car is vandalised. Some personal items were also stolen and one of the victims was stabbed in the back. The reason for the attack was because the victims had criticised their assailants for a dangerous manoeuvre a few kilometres previously. The Interior Ministry released news of the five arrests this week, and said the search continues to locate the three other suspects involved.

32 arrests in luxury car scam in Spain


National Police in Spain have arrested 32 people accused of stealing 25 vehicles worth over a million € from counties such as Germany, Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland, to be sold on in Spain. The sale of the vehicles were helped by official dealers and the gang even had the collaboration of workers at several ITV/MOT centres which issued certificates to say the vehicles had no signs of being manipulated. The Ministry of the Interior says that the gang was made up mainly of Hungarians, Romanians and Spaniards, and the vehicles were sold on with false documents in dealers in Madrid, Santander, Tarragona, Castellón, Valencia, Alicante, Cuenca, Almería, Córdoba, Jaén and Granada.

Spain's first private airport goes bust


Spain’s first private airport has closed. The Ciudad Real Airport was opened in December 2008, considering that it could act as a Madrid overflow for residents in the south, but that just has not happened. The very last flight, operated by Vueling and with just 45 passengers, took off for Barcelona on Saturday at 2,45pm. The airline lasted less than a year at the Ciudad Real airport which has been dogged by bad luck from the start. It had problems with the environmental agency in 2005 as it is located in a special bird protection area, there were complaints that as much as 50% of the building works were illegal, it needed a continued supply of capital, and the intervention of the Bank of Spain in the CCM Castilla La Mancha savings bank revealed more irregularities. The airport closes with the company, CR Aeropuertos, owing its creditors more than 290 million €. It opened with debts of 1.7 million, and a poster declaring ‘Our dreams take off’, can still be seen in the Cuidad Real City Hall. The airport had hoped to attract seven million passengers a year, and managed to attract the airlines, Air Nostrum, Air Berlin and Vueling, with the attraction of a AVE high speed train station at its door, and one of the longest runways in Europe, but the facility never attracted more than 500,000 travellers in the first year. It was not long before some flights had more crew than passengers. There has been a rash of private airport projects in Spain, started during the economic boom, and there were six projects in total in Cataluña, Aragón, Valencia, Murcia, Andalucía and in Ciudad Real. Only one has opened, and today, has now closed for business.

29 Oct 2011

Man stabs three people to death in Valencia


A man has stabbed three people to death and injured another two in a hamlet close to Valencia. It happened in Castellar-Oliverar to the south of the city on Friday night at about 9pm. A 48 year old is reported to be very seriously hurt and is in the intensive care unit of the La Fe Hospital. Another 44 year old man has injuries to his back and head, and is stable in the General Hospital. Two of the dead are father and his 13 year old son, while the third is a female pensioner. 33 year old local resident and neighbour to the dead and injured, named as J.P., has been arrested in connection with the triple homicide. Municipal sources say the man carried out his attacks in several flats connected to the stairway of his block after ringing the door bells. A local policeman then saw the man in the street, covered in blood, and asking what had happened. It seems that the case is linked to a dispute between the neighbours, and it is still unclear if the attacker is related in any way to the victims. Several neighbours have described him as ‘a normal man’ who was married and had a young daughter and who had never caused any problems.

28 Oct 2011

Ruth Madoff reveals suicide pact after £40bn fraud


Come what may, Mrs Madoff is still managing to keep up appearances. But behind her designer outfit and reassuringly expensive haircut, she's anxious to remind the world that life as the spouse of a $65bn (£40bn) conman isn't always plain sailing. In her first interview since her husband Bernie oversaw the collapse of the family investment house almost two years ago, Ruth revealed the couple attempted suicide in the immediate aftermath of his arrest. It was the night before Christmas 2008. The Madoffs, once the toast of New York society, were confined to their Manhattan penthouse, coming to terms with the fact that his Ponzi scheme had wiped out the life savings of several thousand investors, including many close friends and family members. "I don't know whose idea it was, but we were both so saddened by everything that had happened that we decided to kill ourselves," she recalled. "It was so horrendous what was happening. Terrible phone calls, hate mail – just beyond anything. And I said, 'I just can't go on any more'." They decided to overdose on the sedative Ambien. But they apparently under-estimated the amount needed and found themselves still alive to face the music on Christmas Day. "We were both in agreement," she told CBS's 60 Minutes – which will air interviews with her and her son Andrew on Sunday. "I don't remember what we said very much. We were figuring out how many pills to take. "I think we were both sort of relieved to leave this place. It was very, very impulsive, is all I can say. And I was glad to wake up the next morning." The show will tell how the family learnt of their sudden elevation to global pariah status and explain what they have been doing since. Mrs Madoff, 68, met her husband, now 73, when she was 14 and married him two years later. At the height of their powers she kept an office at the headquarters of the family investment firm and was listed as a director of several companies he controlled. She has always maintained she had no idea the firm was overstating profits and defrauding investors. After his arrest she struck a deal with prosecutors that saw her give up all her assets except for $2.5 million. Many of Madoff's victims angrily insisted she should have been left with nothing. Shortly after the deal was announced, The New York Times dubbed her "the loneliest woman in New York". She later left the city to live in Florida. Judging by CBS interview footage released yesterday, the months since have been tough on a woman who was once the toast of Manhattan. She has retained her petite figure, well-groomed blonde hair and elegant dress sense but has aged considerably. Although she admits being initially supportive of her husband, visiting him in prison, she says she decided to break off contact last December. That was when their second son, Mark, 46, hanged himself on the anniversary of his father's arrest using a dog leash. It remains to be seen whether the TV interview will repair her tattered reputation. People who believe she helped cover up her husband's fraud now suspect her claim about their joint suicide bid was invented to win sympathy. Their former bodyguard Nick Casale, who was with them that Christmas Eve, cast doubt on the story yesterday. Bernie has also granted a first interview, it emerged last night. He spoke to the veteran TV interviewer Barbara Walters at the prison in North Carolina where he is currently serving a 150-year sentence for fraud. No cameras were allowed but a transcript suggests he expressed remorse for his crimes and understands why people think he "robbed widows and orphans". But he insisted: "I made wealthy people wealthier." And on life behind bars, he added: "Ruth not communicating is the hardest thing... Ruth doesn't hate me. She has no one. It's not fair to her. She lost her first so. She's a devoted wife and didn't care about the money."

Yemeni women burn veils to protest regime


Yemeni women defiantly burned their traditional veils Wednesday in protest of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations. Thousands of women gathered in the capital, Sanaa, said witnesses. They carried banners that read: "Saleh the butcher is killing women and is proud of it" and "Women have no value in the eyes in Ali Saleh." They collected their veils and scarves in a huge pile and set it ablaze -- an act that is highly symbolic in the conservative Islamic nation, where women use their veils to cover their faces and bodies. It's the first time in the nine months of Yemen's uprising that such an event has occurred. Inspired by Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman's Nobel Peace Prize this month, more and more Yemeni women have taken to the streets and escalated their campaign for help from the international community. More than 60 women were attacked in October alone by the government, said protester Ruqaiah Nasser. Government forces are raiding homes and also killing children, she said. Yemen's youth continue calls for change Clashes in Taiz left woman dead Clashes in Yemen turn deadly What's behind escalating Yemen violence? She said silence from tribal leaders on the matter is a "disgrace." "We will not stay quiet and will defend ourselves if our men can't defend us," Nasser said. "Tribes must understand they will not be respected by Yemeni women if they stay quiet while their women are being attacked by the Saleh regime. Tribes who ignore our calls are cowards and have no dignity." "Saleh is killing women and children and this is against tribal culture," she said. "Where are their voices when we need them? It's a disgrace if they stay quiet." The women's protests came after the Yemeni government announced a cease-fire Tuesday. But that did not appear to be holding. At least 10 people died and dozens were injured earlier Tuesday in clashes between Yemeni government security forces in the country's capital and the province of Taiz, medical officials reported. Yemen's government has said that opposition-supported militants are responsible for the violence. Saleh summoned the U.S. ambassador and reiterated a promise to sign an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in which he would step aside in exchange for immunity from prosecution, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. However, Saleh has repeatedly promised to sign the council-backed deal and not done so. The embattled leader has clung to power through the protracted protests.

Villages all but wiped out as storms batter Italy's 'Cinque Terre'


The worst affected region was Liguria, with at least two of the five World Heritage-listed 'Cinque Terre' coastal villages cut off as a result of roads being washed away. The walking trails and picturesque fishing villages of the Cinque Terre attract hundreds of thousands of international tourists, but two of them – Vernazza and Monterosso – were severely affected as rivers of mud poured down from the hills behind them. The mayor of Monterosso said the fishing village had all but been wiped out. "Monterosso no longer exists," Angelo Betta told an Italian news agency. Huge amounts of mud had swept through the tiny settlement, causing an "unimaginable disaster".

27 Oct 2011

Fresh appeal launched to find man living abroad accused of murdering Nantwich man


NEW appeal has been launched to capture a man wanted in connection with the murder of a Stapeley market trader. Christopher Guest More, 33, of Lymm, near Warrington, is one of 10 individuals wanted in the latest campaign being run by Crimestoppers and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). He is suspected to have been part of a gang involved in the torture and murder of market trader and cannabis farmer Brian Waters, who was killed in a barn in Tabley, near Knutsford, in June 2003. Three of his alleged accomplices, Otis Lee Matthews, James Stuart Raven and John Godfrey Wilson, received life sentences for their part in the brutal attack. More is also sought in connection with the attempted murder of Suleman Razak and for the alleged false imprisonment and assault of other victims present during the incident. It is believed he fled to Spain just 24 hours after the incident. The appeal is part of crime charity Crimestoppers’ ‘Operation Captura’ campaign, which is trying to locate wanted criminals abroad. Crimestoppers’ regional manager Gary Murray, said: “This extremely heinous crime saw an individual lose their life and the person responsible needs to be tried for their actions. “I’d urge anyone with information to contact Crimestoppers on our 0800 555 111 number or use our online form on our website – we guarantee your anonymity.” Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Smith said: “Eight years on, we still remain determined and committed to finding and arresting Christopher More for his alleged involvement in the brutal murder of Brian Waters. “Cheshire Police will not close this case until the family of Brian Waters sees justice done.”

The singer was found five times over the drink-drive limit, with three empty vodka bottles next to her.

Amy Winehouse in Concert, Serbia, June 2011 (Pic: Rex)

Troubled: Amy Winehouse on stage in Serbia a month before she died

TRAGIC Amy Winehouse died after a killer booze bender following weeks on the wagon, her inquest was told yesterday.

She suffered alcohol poisoning but had told her doctor the night before: “I don’t want to die.”

The Back to Black star, 27, who had fought drug and alcohol problems for years, was discovered lifeless in bed at her North London home on Saturday, July 23.

In June, she had stumbled around the stage during a shambolic concert in Belgrade, Serbia, where she was booed off after slurring through songs.

And as tearful parents Mitch and Janis listened yesterday in the public gallery, the hearing was told Amy did not drink for the first three weeks of July.

Mitch Winehouse, the father of Amy Winehouse and her stepmother Jane arrive at St Pancras Coroner's Court (Pic: Getty)

Tears: Amy's dad Mitch Winehouse and stepmum Jane arrive at the Coroners' Court (Pic: Getty)

But she then hit the bottle days before her death – and the Mirror reported at the time she was spotted necking shots at the Roundhouse venue near her Camden home after dramatically falling off the wagon.

Giving evidence yesterday, her GP Dr Christina Romete said this fitted a pattern in which Amy would abstain from alcohol for weeks, only to drink again. The doctor revealed she warned the star of the many dangers if she kept drinking.

Dr Romete said: “The advice I had given to Amy over a long period of time was verbal and in written form about all the effects alcohol can have on the system, including respiratory depression and death, heart problems, fertility problems and liver problems.”

Amy, who won five Grammy awards in 2008, was taking medication to cope with alcohol withdrawal and anxiety. She was reviewed last year by a psychologist and psychiatrist about her drinking but “had her own views” about treatment.

The GP, who treated her for several years, said her patient fully understood the risks of continuing to drink. Dr Romete said the night before her death, Amy was “tipsy but coherent” and said she did not know if she was going to stop drinking but “she did not want to die”.

Amy had no illegal drugs in her system when she died but police found three empty vodka bottles in her bedroom – two large and one small.

She was using alcohol withdrawal drug Librium and sleeping tablets but the inquest heard they had not played a part in her death.

At St Pancras Coroner’s Court in London, it emerged she had 416mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in her system, with the legal driving limit being 80mg

TOP Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson tried to stop his ex-wife from claiming they had sex after he remarried.

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson took out the gagging order against his ex-wife last year. It's not known why he applied to lift it. Picture: Cameron Richardson Source: Supplied

Clarkson, who has made a name for himself as a man refuses to be silenced, denies the allegation but took out a gagging order against Alexandra Hall last year.

The claim can now be revealed because he asked for the order to be lifted.

It is unclear why he decided to withdraw the order, which banned any reporting of "sexual or other intimate acts or dealings" between Clarkson and Ms Hall.

Ms Hall married Clarkson in 1989 but their marriage lasted only a year.

She claims she had relationship with him after they split and Clarkson was married to his current wife, Frances.

Clarkson's marriage came under fire from the tabloids earlier this year over claims he had cheated on his wife with a member of the Top Gear production team while in Australia.

He denied the reports and said his 18-year marriage was strong.

The couple have three children.

26 Oct 2011

Cowell: Tweet for X Factor faves


US X Factor judge Simon Cowell says he wants fans to use Twitter to vote for their favourite contestants. The Fox show has announced that from November 2, fans can cast a ballot by sending a direct message over Twitter to the official X Factor account. Viewers can also cast a ballot on the show's Facebook page and its official website. "It's a sign of the times," said Cowell, who believes more votes will come in as a result of expanding the process. "Sites like Twitter and Facebook give (the audience) a much bigger voice." Aside from social media, votes can be sent the old fashioned way, by making a phone call or sending a text message and by using a special App created for Verizon Android devices. Cowell uses the internet to gauge what people think of the series so far. He goes online during and after the show to see what people are saying and plans to join Twitter once he learns "how to type quicker". The US show is averaging about 12.5 million viewers an episode, but one thing that has hindered it in recent weeks is the Major League Baseball World Series. Games on Fox have pre-empted the show leading to confusion among viewers and causing some DVR devices to not record X Factor. Cowell says the conflict has been frustrating but they "knew in advance this was going to happen". He believes the ratings have been consistent so far and word of mouth will get people to tune in. On Tuesday's first live show, five acts were cut leaving 12 remaining contestants. With the competition heating up, so has the tension among its judges, who are each mentoring a class of contestants. Cowell has the girls, LA Reid is mentoring the boys, Paula Abdul is helping the groups and Nicole Scherzinger has the solo acts over 30. Cowell says Abdul claims to have the hardest category to mentor, but disagrees with her. He mentored the groups in the UK version of the show and "loved doing it".

Netflix, the American media giant that streams blockbuster movies and TV series over the internet, is to launch on this side of the Atlantic.

Netflix will offer tens of thousands of films in the UK - including exclusive early access to new films. The move comes after a series of hiccups for the company in the U.S., including price hikes and a disastrous attempt to split off its DVD rental business into a new company called Qwikster. 

Neftlix lost 800,000 U.S. subscribers in the last quarter. In the UK, it will offer video streamed to PCs, TVs and consoles, rather than DVD rentals. 

UK launch: Netflix, the U.S. based company, could pose a major threat to pay TV companies like Sky and Virgin

Coming over to the UK. Netflix has signed a number of deals with leading film studios to have the first rights to offer blockbuster movies once they have finished their cinema run

Robert Downey Junior in Iron Man

Robert Downey Junior in Iron Man. In the USA, the company¿s 'watch Instantly' service holds first-run rights to films from Paramount Pictures, MGM, Lions Gate Entertainment. Paramount titles include Iron Man, Star Trek and Captain America.

Netflix has 25 million users worldwide. It is said to be the biggest single source of North American web traffic, accounting for 24.71 per cent of use.

North American customers typically pay around $7.99-$9.99 a month to stream Netflix films to electronics such as connected TVs, PCs and games consoles.

In the UK, though, it's up against serious competition in the form of it Lovefilm, a UK on-demand service owned by Amazon which is integrated into electronics such as connected TVs and Sony's PlayStation 3.

Netflix is pulling out the stops to try and ensure it offers a unique service. 




It has signed a number of deals with leading film studios to have the first rights to offer blockbuster movies once they have finished their cinema run.

The company said the price details will be announced closer to the date of the launch of the service, which will go live in Britain and Ireland early next year.

Rapid expansion: Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, already has 25million subscribers worldwide

Rapid expansion: Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, already has 25million subscribers worldwide

The TechRadar website said: ‘This is pretty exciting news for fans of streaming content.’

Netflix was founded in California in 1997 initially as a DVD rental business where discs were posted to customers across the USA.

It subsequently developed into the world’s largest supplier of web downloads of films and TV with 24.6million users in the US alone.

The company has now embarked on a major international expansion. It began operating in Canada last year and recently added  43 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A spokesman said: ‘Netflix has revolutionised entertainment across the Americas by giving its members a huge selection of films and TV shows to enjoy when and where they want.’

‘Upon launch, Netflix members from the UK and Ireland will be able to instantly watch a wide array of TV shows and films right on their TVs via a range of consumer electronics devices capable of streaming from Netflix, as well as on PCs, Macs and mobile tablets and phones.’

In the USA, the company’s ‘watch Instantly’ service holds first-run rights to films from Paramount Pictures, MGM, Lions Gate Entertainment.

Paramount titles include Iron Man, Star Trek and Captain America.

There are also deals with Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, and Anchor Bay Entertainment, together with US TV shows offered by NBC Universal and 20th Century Fox.

Netflix is locked into complex negotiations with these companies to have the right to show all its output in the UK and Ireland.

In Britain, the business will face competition from LoveFilm, which is owned by Amazon and offers packages that combine DVD postal rentals with access to streaming.

Lovefilm deals start at £5.99 a month, which includes three DVD rentals a month and two hours of streaming. A £19.95 a month package allows unlimited streaming of films.

Sam, 20, said: "There is no way we will be going anywhere near where it happened. It's left us terrified of further repercussions. We're discussing security."


Screen beauty ... Sam Faiers
Screen beauty ... Sam Faiers


Billie added: "It's the only thing we can do to feel safe."

A spokesman said: "It is being arranged. Whenever the girls feel it appropriate they will have security around them."


Gesture ... Peri Sinclair takes flowers to sisters' house
Gesture ... Peri Sinclair takes flowers to sisters' house


Replacement locks were fitted at their home yesterday after the thugs stole Billie's keys along with her £1,500 handbag, mobile, jewellery and shoes. She said: "We've been too scared to go out. I lost everything."

The sisters — who run a boutique in Brentwood and are regulars on the Essex party circuit — are considering a trip out today. They will also be visited by police to take statements.


Thoughtful ... pal Mark Wright buys gifts for the girls
Thoughtful ... pal Mark Wright buys gifts for the girls


Yesterday The Only Way Is Essex newcomer Peri Sinclair and Sam's ex Joey Essex, 21, took flowers to their home.

The sisters have decided to continue filming the programme and references will be made to their ordeal in tonight's show.


Precaution ... locks being changed at pair's home
Precaution ... locks being changed at pair's home


Co-star Mark Wright was due to visit last night for dinner. Earlier he was seen buying cuddly toy gifts for the girls.

Viewers will see tonight's ITV2 show fade to black at the end, before Sam talks to him about the attacks.

McLaren driver Lewis, 26, says the X Factor supremo is one of the key reasons that his four-year romance with Nicole Scherzinger hit the skids.

Lewis Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger (Pic:PA)

Lewis Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger (Pic:PA)

IT’S just as well Simon Cowell likes fast cars – he might need to speed off sharpish if F1 race ace Lewis Hamilton claps eyes on him...

McLaren driver Lewis, 26, says the X Factor supremo is one of the key reasons that his four-year romance with Nicole Scherzinger hit the skids.

He reckons 52-year-old Cowell’s decision to offer Nicole, 33, a judging job on X Factor USA – replacing Cheryl Cole – put “immeasurable strain” on the couple’s relationship.

Lewis has been tied up on the Grand Prix circuit while former Pussycat Doll singer Nicole’s own hectic schedule has prevented her from spending time with him on race days.

It means they have barely seen one another in person since May.

Concerned by both their hectic lifestyles, Lewis is understood to have decided they needed a break – as I revealed on Monday.

Last night, a source close to the couple confirmed: “Lewis and Nicole have been having problems for the past six weeks.

“Increasingly hectic schedules this year have meant limited face-to-face time.

“They’ve probably spent more time on the phone or on Skype than they have in person.

“Sadly, Nicole’s job on X Factor USA – which, professionally, has been an unmitigated success – appears to have come at the cost of her relationship.

“Nicole was under enormous pressure to succeed and was desperate to please Simon, her boss.

“But Lewis found their intense working relationship hard to contend with.

“This, plus Lewis’s crazy international jet-set lifestyle, put immeasurable strain on the pair.

“She was crushed and did everything she could to make it work. They are still good friends though and the break-up is all very amicable.”

Multi-millionaire Lewis, who was said to be in a “vile mood” after last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix, recently said he was a long way off wanting to start a family.

Meanwhile, Nicole has become friends with host Steve Jones, who is said to have a crush on her.

Last night, a spokesman for the couple declined to comment.

22 Oct 2011

The slain Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi secretly spirited out of Libya and invested overseas more than $200 billion


The slain Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi secretly spirited out of Libya and invested overseas more than $200 billion -- double the amount that Western governments previously had suspected, The Los Angeles Times reported late Friday. Citing unnamed senior Libyan officials, the newspaper said US administration officials were stunned last spring when they found $37 billion in Libyan regime accounts and investments in the United States. They quickly froze the assets before Kadhafi or his aides could move them, the report said. Governments in France, Italy, England and Germany seized control of another $30 billion or so. Earlier, investigators estimated that Kadhafi had stashed perhaps another $30 billion elsewhere in the world, for a total of about $100 billion, the paper noted. But subsequent investigations by US, European and Libyan authorities determined that Kadhafi secretly sent tens of billions more abroad over the years and made sometimes lucrative investments in nearly every major country, including much of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, The Times said. Most of the money was under the name of government institutions such as the Central Bank of Libya, the Libyan Investment Authority, the Libyan Foreign Bank, the Libyan National Oil Corporation and the Libya African Investment Portfolio, the paper pointed out. But investigators said Kadhafi and his family members could access any of the money if they chose to, the report said. The new $200 billion figure is about double the prewar annual economic output of Libya, The Times noted. Kadhafi, who lorded over the oil-rich North African nation for 42 years, met a violent end on Thursday after a NATO air attack hit a convoy, in which he was trying to escape from his hometown of Sirte. He survived the air strike but was apparently captured and killed after a shootout between his supporters and new regime fighters.

20 Oct 2011

Various stories about how Al Qathafi lived his last moments have emerged


An image captured off a cellular phone camera showing Muammar Al Qathafi during his last moments

Various stories about how Al Qathafi lived his last moments have emerged with the most plausible being that the got out of a hole near a road not far from the city of Sirte only to find himself face-to-face with the same Libyan rebels whom he once called rats.

Al Qathafi seems to have been wounded in a hole before he was captured by the rebels. Video shots aired by Al Soumoud TVchannel ishow Al Qathafi held by two rebels, one on each side of him as they helped him walk for a few steps. He had a bloodied face. He was then carried by fightes and placed over the front body of a yellow pick-up truck.

Al Qathafi looked disoriented as blood covered most of his face. When he was laid down on the car a rebel seemed to put his hand on his seemingly wounded abdomen.

According to Ibrahim Mahjoub, one of the rebels who played a part in the last moments of Al Qathafi's life, the former Libyan leader escaped to a farm and hid under a rain water hole under a road bridge. “He was already wounded,” Mahjoub said.

Mahjoub went on to say: “We were above that small bridge when one of Al Qathafi troops carrying a green flag got out of the hole and said 'my master is inside'”. Moments later Al Qathafi himself got out of the hole saying, “what is going on?” 

Mahjoub continued to say: “We held Al Qathafi by the hand. He was holding a gun in his hand, a small black bag and also a number of mascots.”

Al Qathafi tried to escape out of Sirte towards the east on Wednesday night but his convoy faced heavy fire from the rebels and was forced to retreat to the city. He tried again to escape Thursday morning but his convoy was surrounded and bombed.

There is a possibility that after his convoy came under fire Al Qathafi was injured he ran away for cover under the road only to be captured by the rebels and die as a result of the wounds he was carrying. 

Qaddafi Is Dead, Libyan Officials Say


Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the former Libyan strongman who fled into hiding after rebels toppled his regime two months ago in the Arab Spring’s most tumultuous uprising, was killed Thursday as fighters battling the vestiges of his loyalist forces wrested control of his hometown of Surt, the interim government announced. Multimedia Slide Show Muammar el-Qaddafi: 42 Years as the Face of Libya Photographs Battle for Libya Interactive Feature Timeline: Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi Related Battle for a Holdout City Stalls Healing in Libya (October 19, 2011) Times Topic: Libya — Revolution (2011) Related in Opinion  Nicholas D. Kristof, a Columnist for The New York Times, on the Implications of Muammar el-Qaddafi's Death in Libya and Beyond on The Takeaway Radio Program Connect With Us on Twitter Follow @nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines. The New York Times More Photos » Al Jazeera television showed what it said was Colonel Qaddafi’s corpse as jubilant fighters in Surt fired automatic weapons in the air, punctuating an emphatic and violent ending to his four decades as a ruthless and bombastic autocrat who basked in his reputation as the self-styled king of kings of Africa. Libyans rejoiced as news of his death spread. Car horns blared in Tripoli as residents poured into the streets to celebrate. Mahmoud Shammam, the chief spokesman of the Transitional National Council, the interim government that replaced Colonel Qaddafi’s regime after he fled Tripoli in late August, confirmed that Colonel Qaddafi was killed, though he did not provide other details. "A new Libya is born today," he said.  "This is the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial.  It seems God has some other wish."   Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the Tripoli military council, said on Al Jazeera that anti-Qaddafi forces had Colonel Qaddafi’s body. It was not clear precisely how he died. Mohamed Benrasali, a member of the national council’s Tripoli Stabilization Committee, said fighters from Misurata who were deployed in Surt told him that Colonel Qaddafi was captured alive in a car leaving Surt.  He was badly injured, with wounds in his head and both legs, Mr. Benrasali said, and died soon after.   . Colonel Qaddafi had defied repeated attempts to corner and capture him, taunting his enemies with audio broadcasts denouncing the rebel forces that felled him as stooges of NATO, which conducted a bombing campaign against his military during the uprising under the auspices of a Security Council mandate to protect Libyan civilians. Libya’s interim leaders had said they believed that some Qaddafi family members including the colonel himself and some of his sons had been hiding in Surt or in Bani Walid, another loyalist bastion that the anti-Qaddafi forces captured earlier this week. There was no immediate comment on the news of his death from American officials. . Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Afghanistan, said the department was aware of the reports “on the capture or killing of Muammar Qaddafi.” There was also no immediate comment from Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the interim government’s top official. But he had said that the death or capture of Colonel Qaddafi would allow him to declare the country liberated and in control of its borders, and to start a process that would lead to a general election for a national council within eight months. Libyan fighters said earlier on Thursday that they had routed the last remaining forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi from Surt, ending weeks of fierce fighting in that Mediterranean enclave east of Tripoli. A military spokesman for the interim government, Abdel Rahman Busin, said, “Surt is fully liberated.” The battle for Surt was supposed to have been a postscript to the Libyan conflict, but for weeks soldiers loyal to Colonel Qaddafi, fiercely defended the city, first weathering NATO airstrikes and then repeated assaults by anti-Qaddafi fighters. Former rebel leaders were caught off guard by the depth of the divisions in western Libya, where the colonel’s policy of playing favorites and stoking rivalries has resulted in a series of violent confrontations. Surt emerged as the stage for one of the war’s bloodiest fights, killing and injuring scores on both sides, decimating the city and leading to fears that the weak transitional leaders would not be able to unify the country. The battle turned nearly two weeks ago, when the anti-Qaddafi fighters laid siege to an enormous convention center that the pro-Qaddafi troops had used as a base. The interim leaders had claimed that the ongoing fighting had prevented them from focusing on other pressing concerns, including the proliferation of armed militias that answered to no central authority.

Libya: 'Gaddafi dies from wounds' suffered in Sirte capture


National Transitional Council official Abdel Majid Mlegta said that Gaddafi was captured and wounded in both legs at dawn on Thursday as he tried to flee in a convoy which Nato warplanes attacked. Gaddafi was shot in both legs and "also hit in his head", the official said. "There was a lot of firing against his group and he died." There was no independent confirmation of his remarks. In the early hours of the morning, at least five cars carrying loyalist fighters attempted to escape the city. Libyan rebels then moved into the city's Number Two residential neighbourhood, which was the last pocket of pro-Gaddafi resistance left in the war-torn country. "Sirte has been liberated. There are no Gaddafi forces any more," said Col Yunus Al Abdali, head of operations in the eastern half of the city. "We are now chasing his fighters who are trying to run away." However, there were reports that Gaddafi loyalists had ditched their military uniforms and were firing indiscriminately at civilians. The final assault on the remaining pro-Gaddafi positions began around 8am (7am GMT) on Thursday and was over after about 90 minutes. Civilians, whose city has been under siege since Gaddafi was removed from power at the end of August, were making their way to the centre to celebrate. The Telegraph, witnessing scenes in the centre of the city said there were scenes of relief, jubilation and intense celebratory gunfire among National Transitional Council (NTC) forces. The new national flag was raised above a large utilities building in the Mediterranean city, which had been under siege for nearly two months. A rebel commander confirmed that loyalist fighters in the city had been rounded up. "This is the last day of the fight," Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Abdel Salam of the Misurata Brigade told AFP. The fate of the city has become entwined with the immediate political future of Libya after the National Transitional Council said a full interim government could not be named until Sirte had fallen.

Gardai in Spain for 'Fat' Freddie handover deal


DUBLIN detectives have travelled to Spain to negotiate the handover of gangster 'Fat' Freddie Thompson. Sources say that gardai are spending a number of days with their Spanish counterparts examining evidence against Thompson. "This is standard procedure in a case like this," a source said. Thompson is due to appear before the High Court today where he is expected to apply for bail after being remanded in custody on Friday when he was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant. laundering Spanish authorities want to extradite him to Spain and they allege that Thompson operated as a bodyguard and chauffeur for the Christy Kinahan drugs organisation, which was targeted in a massive international police operation in May, 2010, known as Operation Shovel. Spanish authorities say that the Kinahan organisation is heavily involved in gun crime, drug trafficking and money laundering through a complex network of companies. Sources have revealed that in the weeks before his arrest, Thompson had fallen out of favour with the Kinahan mob -- organisation who his gang has been sourcing drugs from for over a decade. A European Arrest Warrant has also been issued for Thompson's close pal Gary Hutch (30) but gardai have not been able to find him. The Herald has previously revealed that Thompson's arrest warrant contains explosive details about a phone call tapped by Spanish police in December, 2009, between 'Fat' Freddie and Hutch in which the two criminals discuss firearms. The warrant also alleged that 'Fat' Freddie and Hutch travelled together to Portugal in November, 2009 and Amsterdam in May, 2010, to organise drug shipments. The warrant also states that Hutch and Thompson lived together in Spain and were "right-hand men" of Daniel Kinahan -- the son of Ireland's richest drugs trafficker Christy Kinahan. Also mentioned on the warrant is Ross Browning (27) from north inner city Dublin who is alleged to have collected a major Irish criminal from Malaga Airport in May, 2010, in a car which was also regularly used by the notorious criminal Hutch. violence Browning was one of around 30 people arrested by police investigating Kinahan's drug organisation last year. He was released without charge after being questioned for a number of days by Spanish authorities. Since being sent to Cloverhill Prison on Friday, Thompson has been placed in the protection unit in the jail because of fears that he may become a victim of a feud related attack or that he may orchestrate violence within the prison. It is understood he has had no visitors in jail.

Spanish town rushes to wed gays before election


Spanish town is offering gay couples fast-track marriages before a likely November election win by the conservative Popular Party, which opposes same-sex marriage. The mayor of the small southwestern town of Jun, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, said he offered the service across Spain after hearing from gay couples fearing a change in the law after the November 20 vote. “People are very afraid, they are starting to realise that there could be a real change and they will lose a hard-fought right,” the Socialist mayor told AFP. “I felt it was important to reassure people and find a way so that people who want to get married could do so,” he said. Rodriguez said the town had received 52 requests from same-sex couples wanting to be married in the past week after he announced on Twitter he would offer speedy gay marriages before the general election. The town of just over 4,000 residents carried out just 11 same-sex marriages during all of 2010. The wedding applications are handled entirely online in about five days, complete with marriage certificate delivered by e-mail. The mayor said he had made the town’s park available for wedding ceremonies but the vast majority of couples opt for the electronic marriage and would not need to set foot in Jun. Under Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain has been on the vanguard of Europe in terms of gay rights. In 2005 — a year after Zapatero was first elected — Spain passed a law to allow same-sex marriages, making it only the third member of the European Union after Belgium and the Netherlands to do so. The law, part of the ruling Socialists’ aggressive agenda for social reform, also lets gay couples adopt children and inherit each other’s property. Since then more than 20,000 gay couples have tied the knot. The conservative Popular Party, which is riding high in the polls, has appealed the gay marriage law to Spain’s Constitutional Court. Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy has pledged to reform the same-sex marriage law if elected but as the general election has neared he has stressed that any legislative action will come only after the court issues its ruling. Polls show two-thirds of Spaniards back same-sex marriage, one of the highest levels of support in Europe.

Choose your petrol station carefully in Malaga Province


UP to €4.50 can be saved be choosing the cheapest petrol station to fill up. The average price per litre for unleaded petrol in Malaga Province is now up to €1.34, 13 per cent more than the same time last year, according to the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce and the highest in the whole of Spain. Diesel is €1.29 on average, 16 per cent more than October 2010. The cheapest place to fill up with 95 octane is Distreax-22, Velez-Malaga, at €1.29 per litre. The most expensive place to fill up with 95 octane is E.S. El Torcal, Villanueva de la Concepcion (Malaga), at €1.38 per litre. The cheapest place to fill up with diesel is Galp, Antequera, at €1.24 per litre. The most expensive place to fill up with diesel is Cepsa, Manilva at €1.31 per litre.

19 Oct 2011


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18 Oct 2011

¡Ole! Spain drives legality into mobile services with Sybase 365


Spain was one of the first countries to start to lay down laws relating to old non-registered pay-as-you-go SIM cards for anti-terrorism reasons i.e. you MUST tell the authorities your name and address and get a new SIM if you had one of the old anonymous ones. Following on from this "mobile legality" theme, news this week bubbles of Sybase subsidiary company Sybase 365 working with Spanish mobile operator Yoigo. The two firms have joined forces to offer registered SMS, a new service allowing companies to send customers confirmation text messages with the same legal standing as registered mail. According to Sybase, "Officially certified by the Spanish Real Casa de la Moneda (The Royal Mint of Spain) the Sybase 365 and Yoigo service recognises an SMS confirmation as legal proof of delivery of important documents and information. These certificates can then be used as evidence in judicial proceedings in Spain for enterprises wishing to demonstrate correspondence with their customers. This will enable companies and their customers to resolve disputes in a timely manner, avoiding the cost of court proceedings." With registered SMS, financial institutions, utility companies and enterprises will be able to use SMS where previously they would have used registered mail. Developers working to build in legally approved services into mobile (or desktop for that matter) applications should perhaps take note of Sybase 365's suggestion that an SMS provides a number of advantages over registered mail including five times better response rate over traditional mail and is read 288 times faster than email. "No other communication medium has the ability to reach more people than SMS, said Howard Stevens, senior vice president, global telco and international operations, Sybase 365. "Consumer acceptance and enterprise adoption of the mobile channel is fuelling the growth in volume, availability and sophistication of mobile services and the registered SMS services we're launching confirms this trend."

Catholic Church Child Trafficking Network


Spain is reeling from an avalanche of allegations of baby theft and baby trafficking. The trade began at the end of the Spanish civil war and continued for 50 years – hundreds of thousands of babies are thought to have been traded by nuns, priests and doctors up to the 1990s. This World reveals the impact of Spain’s stolen baby scandal through the eyes of the children and parents who were separated at birth, and who are now desperate to find their relatives. Exhumations of the supposed graves of babies and positive DNA tests are proof that baby theft has happened. Across Spain, people are queuing up to take a DNA test and thousands of Spaniards are asking ‘Who am I?’ Katya Adler has been meeting the heartbroken mothers who are searching for the children whom they were told died at birth, as well as the stolen and trafficked babies who are now grown up and searching for their biological relatives and their true identities.

Spain’s property bust is only getting worse.

Cranes erecting the Pelly tower under construction in Seville.

Spain’s property bust is only getting worse. The wonder is that the country’s economy and banks are still this resilient.

The Spanish government said Tuesday that housing prices remained in free-fall in the third quarter, dropping 5.5% from a year earlier, the biggest decline since 2009.

This makes Spain, in many senses, the worst case of a property bust in the developed world—the country is already deep in its third consecutive year of falling prices, with no rebounds.

Last year, the pace of decline slowed significantly, signalling some light at the end of the tunnel, but another metaphor is called for instead: that last year’s respite was nothing more than a dead cat’s bounce.

The good news should be the overall amount of the decline, since Spain’s government says prices are only down 18%, in nominal terms, since their peak in early 2008.

But that doesn’t include the effect of Spain’s persistent inflation, one of the highest in the euro zone, which makes the real drop closer to 30%—Spain’s government didn’t provide real price data in today’s release.

After earlier predictions of a short-term correction have been smashed, some analysts now say prices may keep falling for the next two years, eroding Spain’s household wealth and banking balance sheets.

Meanwhile, banks are struggling to keep up with the loss in value of the collateral against €400 billion worth of loans to construction and real estate firms, an amount that remains unchanged since 2008.

For Luis Garicano, a professor of economics and strategy at the London School of Economics, this number is perhaps the most dangerous of those related to the bust, since it indicates the banking sector exposure to such loans hasn’t diminished.

He estimates that a possible explanation is that banks have exchanged some non-performing loans for property that they now own, but not enough to offset the rising interest on the loans.

Many, if not most of these loans, are being rolled over to keep zombie developers in business, in the hope that the market will recover.

All the same, banks have also turned into property developers now.

Walk into any Spanish bank branch, looking for a mortgage, and you will see that is much easier to get it if you’ll just take one of the many, many houses the bank acquired from a bankrupt developer. But many will say why worry? The same house will be even cheaper next month.


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