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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Why don't GPS warn you that statins can harm your memory?


John Holliday had been on a higher 40mg dose of cholesterol pills for only a few weeks when he started to lose his concentration. ‘I’d be watching TV and suddenly find myself unable to follow the plot of a drama,’ says John, 52, a telecoms project manager who lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, with his wife Jill, 51, and their two children Adam, 20, and Emma, 16. ‘I’d have to read the same page of a book over and over because I couldn’t take any information in. ‘I’d always been known for my amazing memory — I was great on trivia and had total recall of events that happened 20 years ago, but suddenly I couldn’t remember things and my brain felt fuzzy.’ Just like up to seven million other people in Britain, John had been prescribed a statin to lower his blood cholesterol levels. The drugs are credited by the British Heart Foundation as contributing towards the dramatic 50 per cent fall in deaths from heart attacks in the past ten years. But while there is consensus that statins are lifesavers for people who have previously had a heart attack, concern is growing over their debilitating side-effects. They include muscle weakness, depression, sleep disturbance, sexual dysfunction, muscle pain and damage, gastro-intestinal problems, headaches, joint pains and nausea. Now, official bodies here and in the U.S. have ordered that the drugs must carry warnings for cognitive problems, too. Worryingly, it’s claimed GPs are failing to warn patients of the effect statins can have on the mind — meaning they may mistake them for signs of ageing or Alzheimer’s. ‘When I went back to my doctor after six weeks for a blood test, I told him how dreadful I was feeling,’ says John. ‘But he just said all drugs had side-effects and didn’t mention reducing the dose.’ It's claimed GPs are failing to warn patients of the effect statins can have on the mind - meaning they may mistake them for signs of ageing or Alzheimer's Things came to a head when a friend showed John an electrical circuit he’d built for his car. ‘I’d worked with circuits since I was 16 but it made no sense,’ he says. So John insisted on seeing his doctor again and repeated his concerns about his rapidly declining memory. This time the GP told him he could start on another type of statin when he felt well enough, and so John stopped taking the drugs immediately. ‘It took a few months, but gradually my memory returned and I’ve got my concentration back. I can’t say for sure statins caused these problems, but it seems like too much of a coincidence.’ Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. ordered statins must carry warnings that some users have reported cognitive problems including memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion. This followed a decision by the UK’s Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to add memory problems to the list of  possible statin side-effects in late 2009. The FDA said reports about the symptoms were from across all statin products and age groups. Those affected reported feeling fuzzy or unfocused in their thought process — though these were found to be rare and reversible. The FDA also warned, following U.S. research, that patients on statins had a small excess risk of developing Type 2 diabetes — but stressed that the benefits of taking a statin still outweigh this. The MHRA had 2,675 reports for adverse drug reactions connected with statins between 2007 and 2011. Officially, side-effects are rare —affecting only 1 per cent of people on the pills — but some doctors say they are under-reported. Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con, says he frequently sees patients suffering from mental confusion in his job in hospital intermediary care for the elderly. ‘Many of the patients I see will have been admitted to hospital after a fall or similar crisis,’ he says. ‘If they appear confused I’ll often advise taking them off statins to see if it has any effect — in my experience, about 10 to 15 per cent of people who appeared to have memory problems experienced an improvement in their memory symptoms after being taken off the drug. ‘I had one dramatic case where a lady was admitted to hospital on 40mg a day of simvastatin with such poor memory function her family asked me about power of attorney. 'I suggested taking her off statins and within a week her memory had returned to normal. She went home a fit and independent 83-year-old.’ Dr Kendrick says cholesterol is the main constituent of synapses (structures that allow signals to pass between brain cells and to create new memories) and is essential for brain function. ‘It is still not proven that statins have a significant effect on mortality — it has been calculated that a man who has had a heart attack who took a statin for five years would extend his life by only 14 days. 'Too many statins are being given to people at low risk. ‘Even in the highest risk group you need to treat 200 people a year with statins to delay just one death. 'One day the harm these drugs are doing is going to be obvious — the benefits are being over-hyped and the risks swept under the carpet.’ While Dr Kendrick’s controversial view is in the minority, one large review of 14 studies by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published by the highly respected Cochrane Library last year, concluded there was ‘little evidence’ cholesterol-lowering drugs protect people who are not at risk of heart disease. This review has been criticised by other doctors who say side-effects are rare and that there are still benefits even for people at lower risk who do not have established heart disease. These defenders of statins include Professor Colin Baigent of the Clinical Trial Service at Oxford University, who published research in 2010 showing statins reduced deaths from all causes by 10 per cent over five years. ‘There is relatively little evidence of cognitive impairment — what evidence there is all comes from observational studies.  ‘People read about side-effects and then put two and two together and blame the statins for their muscle pain or other health problems — it’s just not reliable evidence. ‘If you look at the best-quality randomised controlled trial where patients don’t know if they are taking a statin or placebo, there is no evidence of memory problems. 'Even the FDA says the risks of cognitive problems are very small and go away when statins are discontinued. ‘We’re in danger of forgetting just how effective these drugs are.’ Dr Dermot Neely of the charity Heart UK, and lead consultant at the Lipid and Metabolic Clinic at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, agrees side-effects with statins are rare. ‘I’ve been dealing with patients on statins since 1987 and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number whose memory symptoms turned out to be caused by statins.’ However, he said he often saw patients who had not been told about side-effects. ‘It’s important GPs are clear about the drugs statins can interact with, such as certain antibiotics, as this can get overlooked. ‘If a patient notices an adverse effect after starting statins, they should discuss this with their GP —but not stop their drugs suddenly because this can be dangerous.’ Sonya Porter, 73, decided to stop taking statins after her memory problems became so bad that she walked away from a cashpoint leaving her money behind. ‘I was permanently fuzzy-headed and just couldn’t seem to concentrate,’ says Sonya, a retired PA from Woking, Surrey. Then I started to get scared I might have Alzheimer’s. After reading about memory problems associated with statins, I thought it was at least a possibility. I decided to come off the pills to see if it made any difference. ‘I didn’t ask my GP, I just did it — I’d rather die of a heart attack than Alzheimer’s disease. Within a month I felt normal again and didn’t have any problems with memory. ‘I’m terrified that I could have been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s.’ John Holliday is also reluctant to go back on statins. ‘I wouldn’t rule it out completely — my latest test showed my cholesterol levels have gone up,’ he says. ‘But on balance, I’d rather take my chances with heart disease than feel as confused as that again. It’s all very well living slightly longer — but it’s about quality of life, too.’

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Monday, 2 April 2012

Spaniards who grew up in boom years now set their goals low


The son of two teachers, Moises Leon got an education degree in hope of joining the ranks of the comfortable middle class that his parents worked all their lives to raise him in. But his graduation coincided with Europe's debt crisis, and Spain's spending cuts have put a teaching job out of reach. So he works two part-time jobs, as a day-care assistant and a private English teacher, that together earn him barely $1,000 a month. At 28, he still lives with his parents. So do his siblings, both in their 30s. The younger Leons are struggling to become mileuristas, a slang term in Spain for those who earn a mil (1,000) euros a month, or about $1,300, for a yearly income just shy of $16,000. The term used to be a pejorative, but in Europe's new age of diminished expectations, it's become a goal to shoot for. "When the country used to earn a lot of money, people would say, 'Oh, you're just a mileurista. You don't have a really good job,'" Leon said on a recent afternoon in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid's central square, as he waited for a young English-language student. "But now, things have changed. And if you earn 1,000 euros per month? Wow, I wish!" Spain is notorious for having the highest unemployment rate in Europe, nearly 25% among all workers and 39% among Leon's peers in the under-30 crowd. Last month, the government approved sweeping labor rule changes, offering incentives to small companies to hire unemployed people and allowing them, more controversially, to opt out of collective bargaining agreements. Although those measures are aimed at tamping down the unemployment rate, they do little for the working poor. A third of all labor contracts in Spain are for two-year temp jobs, with low pay and few benefits. The vast majority of those are filled by graduates younger than 30 who feel lucky to land any job at all. "It's like, 'You can't complain! You must be happy just to have a job,'" said Miguel Viada, 25, a mileurista who works odd hours at a tech company's help desk, even though he has a master's degree. "Maybe it's not a good job, but you must smile and say, 'Hey, I'm a lucky guy.' But no, I don't think I am." Unlike Leon, who lives with his parents rent-free, Viada pays about $300 a month for a room in an 800-square-foot apartment he shares with four roommates, three of whom recently lost their jobs. They split the utilities, but Viada and the other employed roommate buy the groceries. "It's the least I can do," he said, shrugging. But he acknowledged that his bank account often goes into overdraft by the end of the month. In Spain, a mileurista lives just above the poverty line for a single wage-earner and just below it if he or she is supporting a family of four. A majority of Spaniards reported income of less than $24,000 last year; 80% earned less than $40,000. What was once considered low pay during Spain's construction boom a few years ago has now become the norm. Wages have fallen compared with the cost of living. Economists say the trend will continue as Spain struggles to turn around its shrinking economy, a process that's likely to take years. In fact, some experts say wages must fall even further for Spain to have any hope of recovering jobs. "Our problem is that wages should have been reduced right from the beginning of the crisis, so that the adjustment of the labor market to the crisis would have come in terms of lower wages," said Juan Jose Toribio, a professor of economics at Spain's IESE Business School. "But we didn't do that. So all of the adjustment came through unemployment. Now unemployment is so high that we have come to the conclusion that it's time to reduce wage costs. It's the only way." The new reality of low pay in Spain comes as a blow to young people such as Leon and Viada, who grew up in the boom years and hoped the crisis would be temporary. They're reaching the point in their lives at which they crave financial independence, to perhaps buy a house or get married and start a family. Those prospects are moving further into a fuzzy future. Leon remembers the boom years, but older Spaniards' memories go back further. Thirty years ago, Spain was still a poor country compared with the nations of Northern Europe. It had just emerged from nearly 40 years of military dictatorship, with a closed economy, and wages were much lower than today's. "Life will definitely be more difficult in the coming years, and I don't know yet how difficult it will be," said Toribio, the economist. "But let's remember we're still a developed nation. We're going through an economic stagnation, but at a level that's still relatively high. "I can remember when my salary, with a PhD in economics, was less than a mileurista," he said with a flash of humor. "So I think they'll survive."

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Sunday, 1 April 2012

Game Group shops sold to OpCapita

 

The administrators of Game Group have announced that the 333 of its UK shops that are still open have been sold to OpCapita. The agreement will safeguard the jobs of nearly 3,200 Game Group employees. A small number from head office who were previously made redundant may also be re-employed. OpCapita is a private investment firm specialising in retail. It has set up a company called Baker Acquisitions to buy the shops. Last Monday the video game retailer went into administration, with 277 stores closing down immediately. Administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also announced at the time that 2,104 staff would be made redundant. The financial terms of the transaction have not been announced, but it has been reported that OpCapita will not have had to pay much for the business up front, although it will have taken on a considerable amount of the retailer's debt. BBC business editor Robert Peston revealed on Saturday that the deal had been approved by six banks, led by the Royal Bank of Scotland, who are owed £85m between them. "We strongly believe there is a place on the high street for a video gaming specialist and Game is the leading brand in a £2.8bn market in the UK," said Henry Jackson, managing partner at OpCapita. "We have assembled a strong team of experienced industry operators to implement the programme of operational change that is needed."

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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Russian banker shot six times had testified over murder plot


The banker was left for dead by a lone gunman as he returned to his home in Canary Wharf on Tuesday evening. Scotland Yard detectives are investigating the attempted assassination, which Mr Gorbuntsov’s lawyer believes was a retaliation attack after the banker gave evidence in a 2009 attempted murder case. Mr Gorbuntsov, who fled to London because of his fear of reprisals, had recently submitted new evidence to Russian police about the attempted murder of Alexander Antonov, another Russian banker. The case was closed three years ago when three Chechen men were jailed for attempted murder. But police have never discovered who organised the attempted hit. Officers re-opened the case on March 2 this year after Mr Gorbuntsov submitted his new testimony.

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Serbian mafia 'put gangster in mincer and ate him for lunch'

Milan Jurisic

Gang that assassinated Serbian prime minister admits making 'face mask' out of member's skin

A GANGSTER who helped orchestrate the Serbian prime minister's assassination in 2003 was allegedly made into a stew and eaten by his associates after falling out with his gang leader.
 
Police believe Milan Jurisic (above) was beaten to death with a hammer, skinned and boned with a sharp knife and then put through a meat grinder at a flat in Madrid in 2009.
 
The Zemun clan, a notorious faction of the Serbian mafia that once had connections with the Serbian government, police and media, allegedly made a face mask from Jurisic's skin before turning him into stew and eating him for lunch.
 
It apparently took the gang five days to clean up what is being described as "the house of horrors".
 
Sretko Kalinic, nicknamed 'The Butcher' and known as the gang's hitman, confessed to the crimes when he was arrested in Croatia last year, according to the Daily Mail. Kalinic admitted that he "literally dismembered" Jurisic and then threw his remains into Madrid's Manzanares river.
 
This week, Spanish officers discovered documents at the scene of the crime supporting The Butcher's account. They also found 50 bones in the river and are currently awaiting identification from forensics.
 
Jurisic was one of 12 men found guilty of arranging the 2003 murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was killed by a sniper as he approached a government building in Belgrade.
 
Jurisic was on the run when he was murdered, having been convicted in his absence to 30 years' jail by the Belgrade Special Court for Organised Crime.

It is believed Jurisic had fallen out with the leader of the Zemun cklan, Luka Bojovic, either over money or a woman.
 
As the BBC reports, Bojovic himself was arrested in a restaurant in Valencia, Spain last month, wanted for more than 20 murders in Serbia, the Netherlands and Spain. He is also suspected of involvement in the 2003 assassination. · 




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Friday, 23 March 2012

Spain moves toward freedom of information law


Freedom of information in Spain came one step nearer Friday after the recently-elected government agreed to introduce a bill in response to widespread disgust over corruption and mismanagement by elected officials of both main political parties. The country's Cabinet agreed to put forward legislation that will allow Spaniards to find out more about how their money is spent by government. Spain, which is struggling to get its public finances under control, is one of Europe's few countries without wide-ranging freedom of information legislation. "It is a law whose main goal is improve the credibility of and trust in our institutions, especially government ones," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said. The legislation will take months to come into effect, after an unprecedented 15-day period in which the general public can make suggestions on what should be accessible to them and how the law should work. After that, the bill has to be go through normal Parliamentary procedures. Though the salaries of the prime minister and government ministers are already public information, as are the national budget and much other money-related data, not all of it is easy to access. But under the new bill, information on subjects including senior public servants' salaries and detailed data on government contracts and subsidies will be published online. Spaniards will also be able to file requests for other kinds of information providing it does not breach national security or personal privacy. The goal of the new law is to make public officials at all levels much more accountable for how they spend taxpayer money. People will be able to get information just by the click of a mouse. "It is a law that tries to give rigor to compliance with budget and financial obligations that were unknown until now, but will serve to restore credibility to all levels of government," Saenz de Santa Maria said. News of the Cabinet's support for a package that should make for more open government comes as the country struggles to avoid the same fate as other indebted European countries. The newly-elected conservative government is trying to convince investors that it has a strategy to deal with its debts so it won't follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a bailout. Concerns have swelled recently after figures showed the country's borrowing last year was way more than expected, due in large part to overspending by regional governments but also because the economy is shrinking and laying siege to tax revenues. And a new code of good governance included in the law will make it easier to fire government officials — and ban them from serving anew for up to 10 years — if they do things such as fail to set or meet deficit-reduction targets under a balanced budget law, planned for 2020.

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Spain's Iberia starts low-cost airline

Spanish carrier Iberia on Friday launched a new low-cost airline, Iberia Express, which aims to claim a stake in the highly competitive no-frills sector of the European market. The new airline is part of a plan by parent company International Consolidated Airlines Group to increase profitability after the merger of its component parts, British Airways and Iberia. Iberia Express will initially cover Vigo, Santiago and Granada on Spain's mainland and its island destinations of Minorca, Ibiza, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Palma. It will expand internationally to Ireland, Italy, Greece, Latvia and Netherlands, chief executive Luis Gallego said at a news conference. "The containment of costs will allow Iberia Express to grow and compete with the low-cost operators," said Gallego, adding that although the new airline will be managed independently, it will employ Iberia's maintenance and other services. Inaugural flights will take off Sunday, although the company's website was not up and running Friday afternoon. Prices begin at (euro) 25 ($33) one-way with a surcharge for checking in luggage and booking seats in advance. The new company employs 500 staff and has a fleet of four Airbus 320 planes, although there are plans to increase this to 14 aircraft by the end of the year and up 40 by 2015. The airline is the subject of a protracted labor dispute between Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA and Spain's main pilots' union, Sepla — which held 12 days of work stoppages in December and January to protest the low-cost airline. Sepla pilots argue Iberia Express would mean job losses among the 1,600 pilots who work for the main airline — a claim disputed by Iberia. Sepla had announced nine days of strikes in April and May but called them off following government mediation and has agreed to negotiate further with Iberia.

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Russian banker shooting: 'It looks like a contract hit'


A former Russian banker is in a critical condition in hospital after he was shot several times in east London. German Gorbuntsov was shot by a man armed with a sub-machine gun as he entered a block of flats in Byng Street, Isle of Dogs, on Tuesday. Aleksander Nekrassov, a former Kremlin advisor, told the BBC that Mr Gorbuntsov was a "key witness" in the case of a murder attempt on another Russian banker, Alexander Antonov, in Moscow in 2009. He said: "It looks like a contract hit to be honest because a sub-machine gun is not really a weapon that would be used by some amateur"

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Arrests over child prostitution network selling girls as young as 11

 

The suspects were held this morning as part of a child exploitation investigation into the cases of 24 girls aged between 11 and 16 in Oxford. The men - aged between 21 and 37 - are now being questioned on suspicion of a string of offences including causing the prostitution of young girls, trafficking, grooming and rape. They are being held in custody at an undisclosed police station. The alleged offending is believed to span more than a six-year period. Detective Superintendent Rob Mason, of Thames Valley Police, said: ''We believe we have uncovered an organised crime group who have been running a business of selling young girls for sex.

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France siege gunman 'is dead'

 

The man suspected of killing seven people in al-Qaida-linked attacks in France is dead, the French interior minister said today. The suspect died after jumping from his apartment window after police stormed his apartment following a 32 hour standoff.  Claude Gueant says the suspect, who claims links to al-Qa'ida, jumped after police entered the apartment and found him holed up in the bathroom. Police and the suspect exchanged fire before Mohamed Merah died.  Gueant says two policemen were injured.

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Missing M’sian girl took lift into Thailand from stranger

 

Thai immigration police investigations have indicated that a 14-year-old Malaysian girl and her five Rohingya friends had taken a lift from a stranger in Malaysia near the Malaysia-Thai border before entering Thailand illegally. The six have since been rescued by the Thai police. Deputy Commander of Immigration Bureau Investigation Centre Pol Col Chartchai Lamsaeng said Wednesday, the six took the ride on a Malaysian-registered van offered by a Malaysian man near the border on March 8. The five Rohingyas comprised four boys and a girl, aged between 14 and 16. The six were friends and know each other. "They were given drinks by the man and fell asleep shortly," Chartchai, who led the investigation into the case, told Bernama here. He said, they could only remember passing through Hat Yai, Petchaburi or Nakhon Phatom and ended up at Hua Lamphong in the capital. "We are surprised how they could pass through the border checkpoint without any travel document," he said, adding it was unclear whether the teenagers intended to enter Thailand when they took the van ride. "The man even took them to a mosque in Hua Lamphong. However, it was not clear what happened to the man after that as the teenagers made their way to the Hua Lamphong Train Station." Chartchai said, some vendors near the railway station gave them money to buy train tickets to return to Malaysia. They were caught by the police at the station as they failed to produce valid travel documents and were sent to an immigration police office here, he added. The immigration police later contacted the Malaysian Embassy here. "Our investigations showed that all six were safe and not harmed or abused by the man," said Chartchai, adding that the immigration police would investigate the case under human trafficking law, which carried a penalty of between five and 10 years imprisonment. "We managed to get a sketch of the suspect based on information given by the teenagers. Thai and Malaysian police are working on this case," he said. He said the Thai authorities were trying to determine if an international crime syndicate was involved in this case. An initial news report from Malaysia stated the girl had told her mother during a telephone conversation on March 12, that she and the rest were abducted and taken into Thailand before they were rescued by the Thai authorities at the railway station on March 11.

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TWO men who have been arrested by detectives investigating the murder of crime boss Eamon 'The Don' Dunne are senior lieutenants of crime lord Christy Kinahan.


 The mobsters were picked up by armed gardai during a dawn raid at a property in the north inner city and are currently in custody at Store Street Garda Station. Sources do not believe that either is the gunman who actually killed Dunne in the gangland murder in a Cabra pub in April 2010 but they believe that the pair played a key role in organising the hit. The Herald can today reveal that gardai also planned to arrest the young criminal who they believe shot Dunne but he "has gone to ground." The north inner city gunman is a close associate of the two related men who are in garda custody today. Selling One of those arrested -- aged in his late 20s -- was mentioned by Spanish authorities in the four-page European Arrest Warrant they used to extradite 'Fat' Freddie Thompson to Spain last year. The warrant asserts explosive details about the criminal's role within the multi-million euro Christy Kinahan drugs organisation. This man, who comes from a flats complex in the city, was previously arrested by Spanish police as part of Operation Shovel -- the massive probe against Kinahan's organisation which revealed that his mob were selling shipments of drugs worth a staggering €1m every two months. The 'Fat' Freddie warrant alleges that the arrested criminal is a "member of this organisation in Ireland". The warrant claims that the criminal travelled to Malaga on May 7, 2010, to meet Christy Kinahan's son Daniel to discuss a major drugs shipment into Ireland. "Daniel was supposedly going to finance part of the shipment. A surveillance operation was launched in Malaga Airport and officers saw Ross Browning, another one of the persons under investigation, arrive at the airport," the warrant alleges. The Herald has previously revealed that Browning (28) was named in the warrant, which claims he was a driver for the Kinahan drugs organisation. Browning, from the north inner city, is a close associate of the men arrested yesterday. In January 2001, a 30-year-old, who is in custody today, was involved with Browning in the robbery of over £IR13,000 from a a Securicor van driver. Both men later received suspended sentences. Gardai believe the shocking murder of Dunne was sanctioned by Christy Kinahan who felt that the reckless behaviour of the gang boss was getting out of control. 'Dapper Don' Kinahan -- who is serving the last days of a jail sentence for money laundering in Belgium -- is regarded as the biggest drugs trafficker in the history of the Irish State.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Nation 'Addicted' To Statins...


Dear Reader,

In the UK alone, more than 7 million people are taking cholesterol-lowering statins. This is extremely worrying when you consider the damage these over-prescribed drugs can inflict, with side effects ranging from liver dysfunction and acute renal failure to fatigue and extreme muscle weakness (myopathy).

Slowly tearing us apart

Even more concerning are the side effects that crop up after long-term use, which are often not linked to statins. For example, one study monitored the symptoms of 40 asthma patients for a year. 20 of these patients started statins at the outset of the study, while the remaining 20 did not.

The results showed that those patients on statins used their rescue inhaler medications 72 per cent more often than they had at the start of the study, compared to a 9 per cent increase in those who were not taking statins. The researchers also reported that patients taking statins had to get up more frequently at night because of their asthma and also had worse symptoms during the day...

Worsening asthma symptoms is just the beginning. More recent research has linked statins with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, depression, Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Still, doctors are very quick to reach for their prescription pads and push these drugs. There appears to be an unofficial (but widely practiced) 'statins for all' approach... especially if you are aged 50 and over.

Luckily, some mainstreamers are slowly catching on to what we've been saying for nearly a decade. In 2011, research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine drew attention to the fact that there is inadequate medical data available that proves the benefits of statins, and that many studies fail to acknowledge the most commonly reported adverse effects of statins.

The fact remains (and your doctor may still deny this) that in total, statins cause serious damage in about 4.4 per cent of those taking them, in comparison to the 2.7 per cent statin users benefiting from them... and it looks as if this message is finally getting through to medical authorities.

A case in point is simvastatin or Zocor. After being on the market for almost 3 decades and causing havoc and distress with its horrendous side effects, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally issued a warning about the use of this drug... saying that even the approved dosage can harm or even kill you!

Yep! Kill you!

All well and good

It's all fair and well and good that the FDA flagged this warning, but what's the point if doctors continue to prescribe these drugs left, right and centre?

Professor Sarah Harper, director of Oxford University's institute of population ageing, recently said that the UK's "love affair" with prescription medicine, shows how people choose to pop pills rather than follow a healthy lifestyle.

She cited the widespread use of statin drugs to 'help' protect against heart disease and lower cholesterol, instead of eating healthily, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and taking regular exercise.

By all means, I applaud Prof Harper for pushing the message that living a healthy life plays a big part in preventing disease, but why blame patients for being a bunch of pill poppers when doctors hand out drugs with reckless abandon... and recommend taking preventative drugs to ever younger age groups. So in fact, the white coats should be labelled as Big Pharma's drug pushers, because they're part of the problem... especially considering that so many people put their entire trust in their doctor and would never dream of questioning their advice. Most people take what they say as gospel.

Then there's the media, inundating Joe Public with inflammatory headlines like: 'Statins could help fight breast cancer' or 'Statins can prevent infections like pneumonia'... Not to mention their reporting on botch studies showing the 'unintended benefits' of statins, like their potential to prevent pneumonia, combat diabetes, reduce the risk of oesophageal cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer — all of these so-called benefits are of course not yet proven, and highly unlikely. Still, they reach the front pages!

So, yes we might have turned into a pill popping public, but it's the mainstream and the media that have created this monster all with the help and backing of the puppet master: Big Pharma. Because as you and I know all too well, it's all about the money. 

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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Second arrest after man killed at Herbie Hide's home

 

A second person has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a man at the Norwich home of former boxing world heavyweight champion Herbie Hide. Tafadzwa Kahn, 25, of St Giles Street, Norwich, died from a stab wound at the house in Long Lane, Bawburgh, on Sunday morning. An 18-year-old man from the Norwich area was arrested on Tuesday. The first person arrested, a 16-year-old boy, remains in custody in Wymondham Police Investigation Centre. Detectives said the stabbing followed an argument at a party in the house. 'High visibility patrols' The property remains sealed while a forensic examination is carried out. Police said they would continue to provide high visibility reassurance patrols in the area. More than 100 people were at the party at the time of the stabbing. Police said earlier they were "fairly certain" Mr Hide was not on the premises at the time of the stabbing. Mr Hide told the BBC on Monday: "The reality of this right now is a man is dead. Imagine this - a lady was told her son has gone. Imagine that." A spokesman said a post-mortem examination found the cause of death was a stab wound to the body. Mr Hide and his family have relocated while investigations at the house continue. Mr Hide won the WBO (World Boxing Organisation) heavyweight title for the first time in 1994, beating American Michael Bentt, but lost it to another American, Riddick Bowe, the following year. He regained the title in 1997 and made two successful defences before losing to Vitali Klitschko in 1999.

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Azhar Ahmed to stand trial over Facebook post about dead soldiers


Azhar Ahmed, 19, appeared at Dewsbury magistrates' court charged under the Communications Act 2003 with sending a message that was grossly offensive on March 8. In court a racially-aggravated public order charge was withdrawn, but Mr Ahmed, from Ravensthorpe, West Yorkshire, denied the new charge. Police and demonstrators outside Dewsbury Magistrates Court (Picture: PA) He has been bailed and is due to stand trial at Huddersfield magistrates' court on July 3. There was a large police presence outside court as 50 far-right protesters staged noisy demonstrations when he arrived and left. Mr Ahmed's court appearance came as the bodies of the six soldiers killed in Afghanistan on March 6 were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Demonstrators shouted when Azhar Ahmed arrived and left court (Picture: PA) They died when their Warrior vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in Lashkar Gah in the deadliest single attack on British forces since 2001. Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment was killed alongside Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, Private Anthony Frampton, 20, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, Private Daniel Wade, 20, and Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.

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Harry Potter Star Jamie Waylett Jailed For Two Years For Violent Disorder In London Riots


Actor Jamie Waylett, who starred in the Harry Potter films, has been jailed for two years for being part of a violent mob during last summer's London riots. The 22-year-old, who played Hogwarts bully Vincent Crabbe in six of the films, was found guilty of violent disorder by a jury at London's Wood Green Crown Court. The actor, who had already admitted swigging from a stolen bottle of Champagne during the rioting, was cleared of intending to destroy or damage property with a petrol bomb he was pictured holding. He already has a previous conviction for cannabis possession. Waylett of Hillfield Road, northwest London, was with a gang of at least four people who went into Chalk Farm on August 8, the third night of violence in the capital. He was captured on CCTV at various points during the evening, often with his hood over his head. Buildings on fire in Tottenham during the riots Judge Simon Carr sentenced the actor to two years for violent disorder and 12 months for handling stolen goods, to run concurrently. Jailing him, the judge said: "A considerable amount has been said about what happened over those few days. Anyone watching the footage in this case can only imagine the mayhem that took place on the streets. "You chose to go out on to the streets on what was the third day of the violence. "You were pictured on a number of occasions with a bottle full of petrol with a rag as a wick. "I accept entirely the jury's verdict that you did not throw or have any intention of throwing it, but merely being in possession of it would have been terrifying to anyone who saw you." Waylett will be eligible for parole after serving a year in jail. The star, who had a shaved head and a goatee beard, wore a white shirt with an open collar and a dark suit to hear the sentencing. He nodded to the public gallery as he was led down to the cells.

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Monday, 19 March 2012

18 Best Places to Retire Overseas

When choosing a place to spend your retirement years, the cost of living is important. But it is only one consideration. The ideal retirement spot is a place where you can live a rich life filled with friends, travel, discovery, physical and intellectual distractions, and opportunities for growth. A super-low cost of living is great, but more important is the quality of life your retirement budget is buying you. Many of the best options for enjoying an enormously enriched retirement lifestyle on even a very modest budget can be found overseas. Here are the world’s 18 top retirement havens, where an interesting, adventure-filled lifestyle is available for a better-than-reasonable cost. The Americas 1. Panama. Panama is the world's top retirement haven. Panama City no longer qualifies as cheap, but other spots in this country certainly do. Panama continues to offer the world's gold standard program of special benefits for retirees. The currency is the U.S. dollar, so there is no exchange rate risk if your retirement savings and income is in dollars. The climate in Panama City and on the coasts is tropical, hot, and humid. However, the climate in the highlands can be temperate and tempting. Panama is the hub of the Americas, meaning it's easily accessible from anywhere in North and South America and Europe. 2. Belize. Belize is a great place for reinventing your life in retirement. This tiny, under-developed, sparsely populated country offers two distinct lifestyle options: Ambergris Caye is the best of the Caribbean at a discount, while the Cayo is a frontier where independent-minded pioneers can make their own way and do their own thing, peacefully and privately. The climate is tropical, warmer on the coast, and cooler in the mountainous interior. The official language is English, so there’s no foreign language barrier for Americans. You’ll find a well-established and welcoming community of expats in San Pedro and on Ambergris Caye, and an emerging community of expats in the Cayo around San Ignacio. 3. Colombia. Medellin, a city of springtime and flowers, is the unsung jewel of Colombia. This city is pretty, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, safe, and affordable. Perhaps the most appealing advantage in Medellin is the cost of real estate. It's an absolute global bargain. You can buy property in a good neighborhood for as little as $1,000 per meter. Medellin’s second biggest appeal is its climate, which is spring-like year-round, thanks to the high elevation. Medellin is a more developed city than you might imagine, with five of the best hospitals in Latin America, universities, museums, art galleries, and an efficient and reliable metro system. It also has international-standard shopping and many interesting nightlife options. If you fancy Paris or other Continental city choices, but don't want or can't afford Europe, I strongly recommend you take a look at Medellin. This city is one of the best places in the world to hang your hat. 4. Uruguay. It seems that the more troubled the rest of the world becomes, the more people are finding appeal in Uruguay, a stable commodity-based economy with a sound banking system. Uruguay is neither an aggressor nor a target of aggression in the world arena, and it's not a high-stakes player in world politics. Costs have risen in recent years thanks to the strength of the Uruguayan peso and the sinking value of the dollar. But, even as the cost of living and of real estate rose, Uruguay has become even more popular as a lifestyle and retirement destination. Accordingly, people are coming to Uruguay in record numbers, with residency applications up over 300 percent since 2007, many of these coming from the United States. 5. Ecuador. Ecuador is perhaps the best choice in the Americas for a retiree looking to enjoy a rich and interesting quality of life on a limited budget. I recommend Cuenca, the former Inca and Spanish capital, a current UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the intellectual heart of Ecuador. Cuenca is home to about 1,500 full-time residents from North America. This is not a big number compared with some more recognized Mexican retirement choices, but Cuenca clearly qualifies as an expat-friendly city, offering one of the most interesting retirement lifestyles available anywhere. Amenities include theater, orchestra, shows, restaurants, broadband Internet service, reliable electricity and telephone, and drinkable tap water. Cuenca’s appeal as a retirement haven is expanding in important ways, thanks to a recently developed program promoting the city as a medical tourism destination. The city's five top hospitals have joined together to offer bundled programs of medical tests, procedures, and services available for from $66 to $401. Costs for comparable services in the United States would be multiples of these amounts. In addition, Cuenca is now offering nursing care of a standard suitable for and appealing to the expat retiree at a cost of just $450 per month, including 24-hour doctor and nurse attendance, food, laundry, personal care, and occupational and rehabilitative therapy. 6. Nicaragua. Another top choice for a retiree with a very limited budget is Nicaragua. This country’s Pacific coastline is every bit as dramatically beautiful as that of neighboring Costa Rica. Infrastructure is under-developed in both countries, but the cost of living and especially real estate are noticeably lower in Nicaragua, making the pot-holed roads easier to bear. Nicaragua also boasts two of the top Spanish-colonial cities in the Americas: Granada, a pretty and romantic city that everyone should see once, and Leon. Both places were founded in the early 16th century by Cordoba. 7. Roatan, Honduras. I’m not a big fan of mainland Honduras, which is under-developed and, in some places, unsafe. However, the Bay Island of Roatan is a world apart and one of my two top picks for affordable retirement in the Caribbean (the other is Ambergris Caye, Belize). 8. Argentina. Argentina is a dynamic and charming nation that rides perpetually between crisis and boom. This rich country boasts abundant natural resources and offers many appealing retirement lifestyle choices, including the eclectic and cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, the provincial capitals, a finca in the countryside, and a boutique vineyard in Mendoza. Retirement life in Argentina could be many things, but never dull. The downside is a rising cost of living, thanks to local inflation and the falling value of the U.S. dollar versus the Argentine peso. 9. Mexico. This is historically one of the most recognized retirement havens for Americans. But Mexico today is suffering from a lot of bad press thanks to its drug wars. However, Mexico is a big country, and the drug goons haven’t overtaken it entirely. It continues to offer some of the best coastal lifestyle and retirement options in the Americas, including Puerto Vallarta, my number-one choice for an affordable life of luxury on the Pacific. A couple could enjoy a a five-star retirement in this beautiful and romantic coastal town of marinas, golf courses, yacht clubs, and fine dining on a budget of as little as $2,500 per month. 10. Chile. Chile is a developed, First World destination that is also quiet, safe, and stable. Unlike its more scandalous neighbor, Argentina, Chile offers a cultured, comfortable lifestyle that is relatively calm. Santiago is a city of classic-style architecture, cobblestoned streets, and cafes with outdoor seating, in many ways reminiscent of Paris or Barcelona. This city of 7 million is also remarkably clean and friendly and boasts a diverse and expanding property market that is affordable on a global scale. You could own property at some of the city’s best addresses for less than $2,000 a meter. One important downside to retirement in Santiago is the air pollution, which is a serious problem, especially during the winter months. A better option could be the country’s beautiful Lake District to the south of Santiago, which is a favorite retirement choice among Chileans themselves. Europe 11. France. France is a land of superlatives. Its capital has been called the most beautiful, most romantic, and most touristed city on earth. It also boasts some of the world’s best wines, cheeses, restaurants, shopping, castles, gardens, parks, beaches, museums, cafes, galleries, vineyards, and architecture. The typical concern for anyone who has ever dreamed of a new life in France is that it's too expensive for the average retiree to consider seriously. Not so. Paris isn't cheap. But elsewhere in France you can find realistic options, even if your retirement budget is modest. Perhaps the most retirement friendly region in this country is in the southwest, north of Spain, where small country towns offer a way of life that is quintessentially French and also very affordable. 12. Italy. The cost of living in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Tuscany might be beyond the limits of your retirement budget. But that doesn't mean you should take Italy off your list entirely if this is the country that stirs your imagination and speaks to your soul. A retiree on a budget interested in Italy could look at Abruzzo. From this beautiful Old World base, within a half-day's drive of both the coast and the mountains, you could plan excursions to Italy's better-known and more expensive outposts as often as you liked. 13. Ireland. Americans have long dreamed of retirement on the Emerald Isle and with good reason. Ireland is safe, peaceful, relaxed, welcoming, friendly, hospitable, and English-speaking, making it an ideal retirement choice for many. Ireland today is also more affordable than it has been in more than a decade, and its property market has fallen off a cliff. Real estate prices are down 50 percent or more in many markets and are still falling. If you, like so many others, have dreamed of wiling away your retirement years on your own little piece of the Auld Sod, this could be the best time in your lifetime to think about making that purchase. 14. Spain. Spain is known among expats for its Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, especially its infamous (and unfortunately over-developed) Costa del Sol. But there's more to this country than its costas. Barcelona, for example, is a world-class city on the ocean, perfect if you're looking for a cosmopolitan life near the water. Real estate prices in this country have fallen tremendously since the highs of four or five years ago. If retirement in Spain appeals to you, this could be the time to search for a great deal on Spanish retirement digs. 15. Croatia. Croatia, a country with an extraordinarily complicated history and an extremely open-minded, forward-looking population, is at another turning point in its long history. Countries at turning points are interesting places to be. I recommend the country’s Istrian Peninsula, which serves up some of the most delightful scenery on the planet. The land seems to rise up to embrace you, and everywhere you look, something nice is growing like olives, grapes, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins, blackberries, and wildflowers. Even the buildings seem to be part of the earth, built of its white stone and red clay. This sun-soaked region offers one of the most appealing lifestyle options in Europe today. Asia 16. Thailand. Thailand boasts both really cheap and developed and comfortable lifestyle choices. It is also noteworthy as being one of the few countries in this part of the world that offers formal options for long-term and retirement visas. Hua Hin is one of the few classic retirement havens in Southeast Asia, complete with golf courses, factory outlets, and gated communities. Foreigners make up approximately 15 percent of that population, and most of them are retired. With 12 golf courses in operation and another 3 under construction, this is definitely the place to go if you're a golfing enthusiast. Hua Hin is a place where, if you were so inclined, you could live a North American lifestyle and never have to involve yourself more than superficially with the local Thai culture. This could be a plus or a minus for you, but it is worth noting when discussing options in this typically exotic part of the world. 17. Vietnam. While Thailand is well-established as an interesting option for expats and foreign retirees, Vietnam is an emerging choice, which could get a lot more attention in the coming few years. Nha Trang offers an interesting coastal retirement option for adventuresome retirees. Nha Trang’s total population of more than 200,000 includes an expat population of about 1,000 people, meaning foreigners here are still pioneers. You'll find no organized activities for foreigners, such as expat clubs or softball leagues. The lack of a big foreign population makes it easier to have meaningful interactions with the locals. The major attraction in Nha Trang is its cost of living, which can amount to much less than $1,000 per month for a retired couple. If you're a budget-minded retiree with an interest in Asia, this town should be on top on your list. 18. Malaysia. After Thailand, Malaysia is the easiest country to navigate in this part of the world. The country's capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a city of contrasts. The shining stainless steel Petronas Towers, two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, anchor a startlingly beautiful skyline that is truly unique to this city. Modern, air-conditioned malls flourish, selling everything from beautifully handcrafted batik clothing to genuine Rolex watches and Tiffany jewelry. In the shadows of these ultra-modern buildings, the ancient Malay village of Kampung Baru still thrives, with free-roaming roosters and a slow pace of life generally found in rural villages. Less than a 20-minute walk from the city center, you can find yourself conversing with monkeys in the city-jungle surrounding one of the highest telecommunications towers in the world. A walk of less than 30 minutes leads you to Chinatown and Little India, where merchants offer their wares, foods, and culture in happy neighborhoods that showcase the amazing diversity of the city. Unlike some places in Asia, foreigners are genuinely welcomed in Kuala Lumpur. Language isn't a problem, as almost everyone speaks adequate English. Immigration is easy, and it is possible to stay for an extended period with a simple tourist visa. Although Kuala Lumpur is more expensive than rural Malaysia, it can be marvelously inexpensive by Western standards. You can realistically expect to cut your living expenses by a third and still enjoy a lifestyle comparable to what you are accustomed to now.

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5 Top Ways Stars Lose All Their Cash

Last week Gary Busey passed a mandatory online financial management course in an attempt to convince a U.S. Bankruptcy court he'll start sensibly managing his money.  The veteran actor recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But in Hollywood, going broke is just about as as common as a leaked nude photos; just ask Toni Braxton, Larry Wilcox, Vince Neil, Mike Tyson, and Stephen Baldwin, all of whom have recently filed for bankruptcy. Not to mention Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband, who was forced to put their Bel Air mansion on the market last year to pay the ailing star’s medical bills; Wesley Snipes, who was imprisoned for three tax-related misdemeanor convictions; and Nicolas Cage, who lost one of his homes to foreclosure and has been plagued by IRS issues. So how is it that some of the most well-paid people on the planet can end up with next to nothing? We talked to financial management experts and they ticked off the top five ways rich celebs lose it all (or close to it). 5. They have no idea how money management works.  “Most celebrities have extremely creative minds. But in my experience, the most creative folks tend not to want to spend time dealing with business issues,” tax and business expert Joseph M. Doloboff, Partner at Blank Rome LLP in Los Angeles told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. But don’t famous folks hire financial planners and business managers to take good care of their millions? “Most of them do, but at the end of the day, these accounts are still in a celebrities’ name, which gives them ultimate control over their wealth,” said Certified Financial Counselor for Financial Advice for the Artist, Erin Elizabeth Burns. Which can mean big spending, big mistakes and… 4. Bad advice.  Pete Krainik, Founder and CEO of The CMO Club, a networking resource for top marketing executives, noted that some celebrities do not have the skill sets to identify and determine the right business/financial managers for their needs. “Because they don’t think of themselves as brands, they don’t put the efforts or plans in place to maximize their value for endorsement deals,” he explained. “They should have themselves significant additional revenue streams – it is not just about getting the next role, but getting the next deal.” But some such "additional revenue streams" can also run in the red.. Last year, the Las Vegas rendition of Beso – the restaurant/nightclub co-owned by Eva Longoria – filed for bankruptcy to restructure nearly $5.7 million in debt and other liabilities. Prior to that, the Jay-Z owned 40/40 sports bar in Sin City shut its doors a mere eight months after opening. Britney Spears’s southern-inspired Nyla Restaurant reportedly hit monetary blows before she also severed ties, and both Jennifer Lopez’s “Sweetface” clothing line and restaurant Madres went dark. 3. Theft and fraud.  Hollywood's highest profile people are actually human, which means they too are susceptible to being screwed by business managers, badly worded deals and corrupt advisors. Just ask Kevin Bacon and wife Kyra Sedgwick, who were taken to the cleaners by Ponzi schemer Bernie Maddoff. Doloboff also said prominent factors in a celeb’s financial crumbling is their tendency to bring "friends" -- or family -- into the fray as business partners or employees. “Many professional athletes and entertainers want to help their friends while simultaneously helping themselves,” he said. “The best advice is to refrain from doing business with friends. True friends don’t condition their friendship upon doing business together.” Comedian Dan Cook will probably adhere to that – in 2010, his half-brother Darryl McCauley was ordered to pay the comic $12 million in restitution after pleading guilty to embezzling funds from him. McCauley allegedly stole $12,500 a month as Cook’s business manager. Friends and fraud – double whammy! 2. Drugs, booze, and bad habits. Stars are known to fall when the temptations of drugs/alcohol/hard partying turns into a dangerous addiction. It can also be more than an expensive habit, as addiction often impacts other areas. “You are far more likely to make poor decisions when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When you’re dealing with celebrities, the problem is that their support groups, (friends, family, entourages, et al), often consist of enablers,” explained Richard Taite, the Founder and CEO of rehab center Cliffside Malibu. “It comes as no surprise that a successful celebrity can face financial destitution if they are abusing drugs or alcohol and are left to their own devices.” 1. Ridiculous overspending. Last but not least, some beautiful yet broke folks just lead foolishly fabulous lives (we're talking to you, MC Hammer) and refuse to accept that fame (and its fortune) can be fleeting. “Most celebrities have luxuries such as a cook, a driver, a personal stylist, a personal assistant etc.,” said Burns. “They become accustomed to this lifestyle, but when their contract isn’t renewed, or when the films offers stop coming in, they are still living this life of luxury with the expectation that they will always be in demand.” Yes, sadly, not every Hollywood tale has a happy ending. But with some good financial advise, the ending doesn't have to be tragic.

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At least four people, including three children, were killed, when a man on a scooter opened fire outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in southwestern France


At least four people, including three children, were killed, when a man on a scooter opened fire outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in southwestern France on Monday, officials said. The attack also left several injured, two of them seriously, and followed the killing of three soldiers in two separate shootings in the same region last week by a man who escaped on a scooter. BFM TV news channel said that the gun used in the attack at the Ozar Hatorah school was of the same calibre as that used in the soldiers’ shootings, but a spokesman for the interior ministry could not immediately confirm this. President Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled other appointments and was on his way to Toulouse on Monday morning, accompanied by Education Minister Luc Chatel and the president of the CRIF French Jewish association, Richard Prasquier. “I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child … Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children,” a distraught father whose child attends the school told RTL radio. “I did not find my son, apparently he fled when he saw what happened. How can they attack something as sacred as a school, attack children only sixty centimetres tall?” Several other people were injured, two of them seriously. A rabbi at the school, identified as Rahamim Sabag, told Israel’s channel two television that the dead were a 30-year old rabbi who taught at the school, the rabbi’s five-year-old son and two eight-year old children, one of them the daughter of the school’s principal. A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, Yigal Palmor, expressed outrage at the killings: “We are following with great shock reports coming from Toulouse and we trust the French authorities will solve this crime and bring those responsible to justice.” A spokesman for the interior ministry said that security was being tightened at all Jewish schools in the country. About 50 investigators are already looking into the killings of two soldiers on Thursday in the town of Montauban, close to Toulouse, as they tried to withdraw money from a cash machine close to the barracks of the 17th parachute regiment. A third soldier was killed the previous weekend in Toulouse. Investigators had already confirmed on Friday that the same weapon had been used in both incidents.

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Spain's Unicaja, Caja Espana savings banks merge


Spanish regional savings banks Unicaja and Caja Espana have merged following the government's recent requirement that banks raise substantially their provisions set aside to cover toxic real estate exposure. The merger, in which Banco Caja Espana-Duero (Banco Ceiss) is effectively absorbed into Unicaja Banco, creates a group with approximately (EURO)80 billion ($104.9 billion) in total assets and a turnover of (EURO)120 billion ($157.4 billion), according to a joint statement released late Friday. The deal must first receive Finance Ministry and central bank approval and would require (EURO)850 million ($1114.86 million) of state aid, which is added to (EURO)525 million ($688.59 million) already injected into Caja Espana in 2010 by the Bank of Spain's restructuring fund (FROB).

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German taxpayer would be obliged to subsidise the wages of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

When faced with the prospect of the Spanish government waiving the collective €752m debt the nation's football clubs owe to the country's tax authorities, the reaction in Europe last week was one of outrage. The German tabloid Bild even asked how long the German taxpayer would be obliged to subsidise the wages of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. What they meant was that while the European Union members bailed out the Spanish economy, successful Spanish clubs were failing to meet their own tax obligations. Strictly speaking, Real Madrid have no tax debt among the €170m debt that the club carry, but Barcelona owe €48m of their overall €364m debt to the Spanish taxman. Uli Hoeness, the outspoken president of Bayern Munich, got to the point rather more quickly when asked about the proposal to excuse Spanish clubs their tax debt. "This is unthinkable," he said. "We pay them hundreds of millions to get them out the shit and then the clubs don't pay their debts." It is a uniquely modern European dilemma, encompassing EU bail-out funds and the competitiveness of the continent's respective leading clubs, all of which ultimately adds another fiendishly complex element to the concept of Financial Fair Play, as proposed by Uefa president Michel Platini. It is further proof that while Spanish football is undoubtedly top dog in Europe, with five teams in the quarter-finals of the two Uefa competitions, it is not without problems. As The Independent's Pete Jenson reported in these pages on Saturday, a government report in Spain last week disclosed that the equivalent of £625m is owed by Spanish clubs to the country's public purse, with £353m of that due from 14 of the 20 clubs in the top division. This is not money owed to banks, investors or owners. It is owed to the Spanish people. On a sporting level it is "financial doping" at its very worse. On a social level it is nothing short of a disgrace in a country where youth unemployment currently runs at 50 per cent. Not all top Spanish clubs are culpable and it was reassuring to read in the breakdown of club debt by AS newspaper that Athletic Bilbao, the team of largely home-grown Basque stars who left English football spellbound with their schooling of Manchester United last week, do not owe the taxman a cent. So too Real Sociedad, Getafe, Villarreal and Sporting Gijon. On the other hand, Atletico Madrid, currently eighth in La Liga and drawn against Hannover 96 in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, owe the Spanish public purse €155m (£128m), more than any other club. The money from the €50m sale of Sergio Aguero to Manchester City last summer went straight to the tax authorities. Valencia, who play AZ Alkmaar in the same stage of the competition, owe €6m in unpaid tax. When Hoeness expressed German football's bitterness that their government is, indirectly, subsidising the success of Spanish clubs it is the likes of Hannover he was talking about. Atletico's big signing was Falcao from Porto last summer, a £33m signing financed by third-party ownership deals. Hannover bought Mame Biram Diouf from Manchester United. Enough said. No one would pretend that British football is the perfect financial model, especially given Rangers' and Portsmouth's debts to HMRC. Even the Germans have had their problems with Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. But unpaid taxes at a time when public services are being cut and jobs lost are particularly repugnant. Real Betis, Real Zaragoza, Racing Santander, Levante and Mallorca (denied a place in last season's Europa League because of their finances) owe a total of €118m to the Spanish tax authorities between them. There are also suggestions that unpaid social security contributions by some Spanish clubs rival those eye-watering figures for unpaid tax. In the past, Spanish football has been protected by the assumption that punishing badly-run clubs would cause such a backlash against government by voters that it would not be politically expedient. There is no points penalty in Spain for going into the equivalent of financial administration as there is in England. But attitudes are changing. The governing political group Partido Popular has described the situation as "intolerable". The government was forced to disclose the figures of unpaid tax because of an official request by Caridad Garcia of the Izquierda Unida (IU) party. A spokesman for IU, José Luis Centella, made the connection last week between the financial hardship felt by the Spanish people and the clubs' failure to pay. "This is bad news for all the people who have lost homes and suffered from the cutbacks while there is this tremendous generosity towards football." Wisely, the Spanish sports minister Miguel Cardenal announced last week that the government had dropped any consideration of giving football clubs a clean slate on their tax debts. There has even been a call from the centre-left party PSOE to ban clubs with tax debts from competing in the league, a rule that, already in place in Italian football, would change the face of La Liga overnight. Were the Spanish tax authorities to call in their debts tomorrow, Barcelona would surely be able to find, or borrow, the €48m they owe. Atletico, on the other hand, would find themselves in the kind of dire situation currently enveloping Rangers. There is a lesson for English football that in the risky game of investment and borrowing that most clubs enter as they attempt to fulfil the ambitions of supporters and owners, there are certain obligations that are non-negotiable. Football clubs command such loyalty and affection that they are too often cut slack, but, as the situation in Spain is starting to show, there is always a limit. Ridicule of Richards the last straw Down the years, Sir Dave Richards has given every appearance of being invulnerable to criticism or error of judgement. He has survived adversaries in the Football Association such as Lord Triesman and Ian Watmore in recent years. The financial problems of Sheffield Wednesday, where he was chairman, do not seem to have had an impact on his reputation. He walked out on the 2018 World Cup bid in a huff and it all blew over. Which makes it all the more incredible that an ornamental fountain, and a slightly unhinged but largely irrelevant speech on football, should prove his undoing. It just goes to shows that a divisive figure in football administration can survive a great deal but once their mistakes start to make people laugh – it's over. Will City seize their chance to get Mourinho? When Manchester City meet Chelsea on Wednesday, the shadow of one man falls over both clubs. Jose Mourinho is the last card that the most ambitious football club owners can play. If all else fails, then give Mourinho the job and if that does not bring success then you really are out of options. In Spain, the mood is that Mourinho may stay at Real Madrid in the penultimate year of his contract next season or he may go back to England if the right job presents itself. Is that Chelsea or could it be City? If Roberto Mancini fails to win the title this season and Mourinho is willing to come then it places an idea in the heads of City's owners. It is not as if he is available every summer.

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Saturday, 17 March 2012

Health board owed £130k for treatment of foreign nationals


FOREIGN nationals not entitled to free treatment are said to owe Swansea Bay's ABM University Health Board more than £130,000 — the second highest figure in Wales. According to figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives, only Cardiff and Vale UHB is owed more, at just over £200,000. ​ Darren Millar AM The Welsh Government has now said it is looking at further measures to help health boards recoup their costs. Figures obtained by the Tories following a Freedom of Information request show the money owed to the NHS in Wales more than doubled between 2008 and 2011. Of the £380,000 that was unpaid, at least £199,311 is still outstanding to Wales's seven health boards, while a minimum of £185,700 was written off after bosses exhausted efforts to be reimbursed. Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM expressed concern at the figures, arguing the Welsh NHS was in no position to be owing substantial sums of money. He said: "There are strict guidelines in place for explaining details of charges to patients who are required to pay. "The Welsh Government should look carefully at how well these rules are followed. "Any money written off by the NHS is regrettable when budgets are being squeezed so hard. The big rise evident in these figures is of great concern." The figures show that, in 2008/09, £70,815 had not been paid back. In 2010/11 that had increased to £257,713. And the Tories also claim there was been a downward trend in the rate of collecting money owed, down from 71 per cent in 2008/09 to 43 per cent in 2010/11. Some treatments, such as medical emergencies at A&E or compulsory psychiatric care, remain free of charge for everyone in Wales — regardless of where they are from or how long they have lived in the country. Other procedures, which include non-life-threatening outpatient care, are supposed to be paid for by non-EU residents. But the process and guidelines are far from straightforward as some countries have signed healthcare agreements with the UK. This makes its citizens exempt from some charges. ABM officials could not be contacted for comment. A Welsh Government spokesman said: "All visitors to Wales requiring NHS treatment are assessed as to their eligibility for free NHS treatment. "All treatment received in an accident and emergency department is free to all. "We have issued clear guidance to NHS organisations which states that they should recover the cost of caring for overseas patients who are not entitled to free care. "We are looking at what further measures can be introduced to support NHS organisations recover costs."

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Spanish state will need outside help – or even go bankrupt.

 

If the negative development in the Spanish housing market continues, it can – worst case – lead to renewed concern over that the Spanish state will need outside help – or even go bankrupt. Banks might face several hundred billion Euros in losses on the Spanish real estate market. This will mean a recapitalization of the Spanish banks – capital that can only come from the Spanish state. Now there is nothing new in that; but what is interesting is the free admission of a need to nationalize the Spanish banks. If you glace at the graph you will see the Danish housing market has dropped between 22% and 30% from the top – time and actual drop depending on market segment. As Danske Bank is roughly half the Danish finance sector it is hard to escape the conclusion that Danske Bank is in at least as big trouble as the banks in one of the more notorious frivolous and irresponsible economies in Europe. Danske Bank will presumably peg their flag to the difference in unemployment figure (Spain hovers around 20%). True as that may be; but unemployment figures are notoriously difficult to compare between countries. Not only do criteria differ; but the criteria differs over time – according to political convenience. It is kind of discussing distress on board the Titanic: “It’s only your end that is under water! I’m fine!!” That is the nearest to a Freudian slip admission of life threatening financial distress we can expect from Danske Bank. But it is time to bust a few myths before they come too much of age – and be established as “truths” – and draw some conclusions. 1)    Looking at the graph again prices on condominiums/flats/apartments had begun to drop way before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Two years in fact. That was more due to a temporary rise in interest rates that made the calculations of monthly payments  – even to the least lunatic bank manager – clearly unrealistic. 2)    Generally sales were falling from mid 2007 – I trust the reader is can see through the regular seasonal variation to distinguish the trend. 3)    The collapse of Lehman Brothers and the perhaps inept handling of the resulting Credit Default Swap disaster had indeed nothing to do with the much deeper issue of banking irresponsibility and incompetence. Alan Greenspan has been quoted for saying that what surprised him was that banks had not taken preventive measures in their own interest. The forces of the free market self-regulating controls do NOT apply in the financial sector. 4)    The next major meltdown – which clearly is underway (Spain will not be able to meet the budget target agreed upon by Rajoy) – will in essence have nothing to do with the Greek debacle. Greece was/is – all things considered – handled more effectively than the collapse of Lehman Brother. To be fair: There was more advance warning and the cacophony of idiotic optimism had been quenched by German lack of sentimentality. 5)    You can see the lack of linkage to the Greek situation by the fact that the Danish and Spanish drop in housing prices (and lack of trade) is simultaneous. Danish banks were not exposed to Greek sovereign debt to ANY appreciable extend. Furthermore Denmark has a reasonably healthy export which is more than can be said about Spain. Still a near similar and at least simultaneous price drop in Denmark and Spain points to a factor nobody has wished to mention: The banks of both countries are to all intents and purposes deceased and with no future without state ownership.

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Friday, 16 March 2012

Spain Approves Canary Islands Oil Exploration


The Spanish government approved Friday a controversial permit to explore for oil offshore the Canary Islands, in an area that could become by far the largest source of oil production in a country heavily dependent on crude imports. Approval of an exploration license marks the latest move in Spain's shift away from a policy of subsidy-dependent renewable energy projects as it seeks ways to improve its trade balance and steady its budget, but will likely face opposition from environmentalists and local government officials concerned about the threat of damage to the island's tourist-friendly, white-sand beaches.

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Spain's public debt soars to record high


Spain's public debt soared to a record high at the end of 2011, Bank of Spain figures showed Friday, as Madrid struggled to slash costs and escape the eurozone debt crisis. Public debt amounted to 734.96 billion euros ($960 billion), equal to 68.5 percent of annual economic output at the end of 2011 -- up from 66 percent three months earlier and 61.2 percent at the end of 2010. The accumulated debts breached the European-Union agreed limit of 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) but was still below the eurozone average, which approached 90 percent in the third quarter last year. It was the highest public debt ratio recorded in Spain since statistics in the current format were first published in 1995. Spain's public debt is rising fast because of runaway annual public deficits that have shot past EU-agreed targets, in part owing to high spending by regional governments. The previous Socialist government, ousted by the conservative Popular Party in November elections, had forecast a debt of 67.2 of GDP for the end of 2011, aiming to curb it to less than 70 percent in 2014. But the European statistics unit Eurostat was not so optimistic. It forecast a public debt of 69.6 percent in 2011, 73.8 percent in 2012 and 78 percent in 2013. Spain's conservative government, which took power in December, has yet to announce a new public debt target. The public debt ratio has grown without interruption since the first quarter of 2008 when, after nearly a decade of fast growth and budget surpluses, which trimmed the debt, it amounted to 35.8 percent of GDP. The situation in the 17 regions is particularly worrying: at the end of 2011 their accumulated debt rose to 140.1 billion euros, or a record 13.1 percent of national GDP, from 11.4 percent a year earlier. Municipal debts, however, eased over the year to 35.4 billion euros or 3.3 percent of GDP. Regional governments enjoy a high level of autonomy, prompting concerns in financial markets that their spending could compromise the central government's deficit-cutting goals. Spain had agreed to cut its annual public deficit to 6.0 percent of GDP in 2011 but it overran that target by a wide margin and ended up reporting a deficit of 8.51 percent of GDP. After winning a slight relaxation from Brussels in its goals for this year, Spain is now aiming for an annual deficit of 5.3 percent in 2012 and 3.0 percent in 2013. But the regions are not entirely to blame. The central government's finances also deteriorated in 2011, as its public debt rose to 52.1 percent of GDP at the end of the year from 46.4 percent a year earlier.

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Cadíz second bridge delayed until at least 2013


The Ministry for Development has announced a delay in the opening of the second road bridge into Cádiz which will now not be open to traffic until 2013. Minister, Ana Pastor, said that not with all the money in the world could a 2012 opening be achieved. 2012 was the target date so that it coincided with the bicentenary of the 1812 Spanish Constitution which was signed in the city on March 19 1812. The General Courts of Spain were transferred there while in refuge from the Peninsular War. The Minister added, ‘It will take at least another 15 months, and that only if there is no wind’. The Ministry of Development says the suspension bridge is now 75% complete, but a fundamental part of the project, linking to the 13 pivot bases which are already showing in the middle of the Cádiz Bay is still to be done. The bridge is the largest road infrastructure project in Spain and has a cost of about 300 million € and will link Cádiz with Puerto Real. It will be known as the Puente de la Constitución de 1812, and not the ‘Puente de la Pepa’ which was the name given by the previous Minister, Magdalena Álvarez.

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Place your bets on Euro Vegas

IT MAY just be the single largest contrarian bet in the euro zone. Sheldon Adelson, a casino tycoon, is expected soon to choose between Madrid and Barcelona for a €16 billion ($21 billion) gambling resort. The euro-zone turmoil does not faze him: “It will take us four to five years,” he told Forbes magazine. “By then everything will be solved.” Mr Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands (LVS) hopes to create a “Euro Vegas”, capable of attracting the 1 billion people who live in the 50 countries within a five-hour flight from Spain. He chose the country because of the weather and because its unemployment rate, now at 23%, “assures us the support of the government”. The numbers are certainly eye-popping. LVS would invest €6 billion in a first phase to build four hotel strips—eventually reaching 12—as well as casinos, shops, restaurants, golf courses and convention centres. LVS says the project could create 260,000 indirect and direct jobs, enough for nearly half the unemployed in Madrid. Spain is already the fourth-largest holiday destination in the world, but LVS reckons Euro Vegas would attract 11m new tourists on top of the 57m a year Spain already gets, increasing tourism spending by €15.5 billion over the next ten to 15 years. In this section News of the world Good for you, not for shareholders Zimplats happens Watch this space »Place your bets on Euro Vegas Luxury on the cheap Nazis in space The view from Liverpool Reprints Related topics Gambling Barcelona Madrid Spain Madrid and Barcelona, used to battling it out on the football pitch, have won a promise of neutrality from the central government. Barcelona admits that Madrid has the edge so far, since it has been talking to Mr Adelson on and off since 2007. But Barcelona has not given up. Mr Adelson recently visited a beach-front site near the city’s El Prat airport, which like Madrid’s Barajas has plenty of spare capacity. National and local leaders are keen on the project but opponents are sceptical of LVS’s claims about job creation, and worry that the casino will become a “fiscal and legal paradise” of tax breaks and exemptions from labour laws—a charge which regional officials deny. However, LVS is thought to be seeking a relaxation of Spain’s ban on smoking in public places, and lower gambling levies. Whichever city won would also have to bear the cost of such things as transport links to the resort. Given Spain’s precarious public finances, and considering that, as Mr Adelson puts it, there are “tens of billions to be made” from the resort, the authorities ought to resist any temptation to splash out taxpayers’ money to win the deal. They will have to assuage public fears of encouraging gambling addiction, infiltration by organised crime and the environmental impact of such a giant construction project. As in Singapore, where LVS recently opened a big casino resort, Spanish officials play down gambling as a small part of the overall package. Another worry is that the project will not happen at all. Spain has had its share of unrealised property developments. A €17 billion casino complex in the desert of Aragon, proposed in 2007, remains unbuilt. But LVS has withstood the global downturn pretty well, and the success of its Macao and Singapore operations gives it plenty of financial firepower. LVS boasts that its Marina Bay Sands development has “moved the needle” in Singapore, with record tourism figures one year after its opening. Euro Vegas would be much larger. A casino resort may lack the prestige of, say, a technology cluster, but Spain will have to take a few gambles to get its soaring unemployment under control.

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Thursday, 15 March 2012

55 security guards arrested with fake qualifications

 

55 false security guards working in sensitive positions have been arrested in Madrid, Toledo, Cuenca and Badajoz. The National Police arrested the 55 who have all be established to have been working fraudulently, and some with jobs looking after explosives or acting as bodyguards. A statement from the National Police said those arrested lacked the necessary preparation for the work and were employed because of falsified qualifications. Some of them have a previous criminal record.

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The Spanish Government is to increase the tax on diesel vehicles

 

The Spanish Government has revealed that it wants to increase the tax on diesel vehicles because they ‘contaminate more’. The change will be a modification on the vehicle matriculation tax. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Federico Ramos, gave the news after meeting with the environment experts and said that in principle the regional administrations are in agreement. The local City and Town Halls say they now want to first analyse the financial consequences for them. Diesel vehicles not only pollute with CO2 but also emit Nitrogen Dioxide, and particles in suspension.

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The ex Mayor of Alcaucín in Málaga, José Manuel Martin Alba, who was arrested for a second time with seven other people


The ex Mayor of Alcaucín in Málaga, José Manuel Martin Alba, who was arrested for a second time with seven other people on Tuesday in the ‘Tristan case’, which comes from the ‘Arcos operation’, made a statement on Wednesday to the investigators of the UCO central operations unit of the Guardia Civil. La Opinión de Málaga reports that he denied knowing the land registry civil servants that he allegedly manipulated with false data to obtain the classification of building land. These plots were often purchased by foreign investors with the idea of building on them. However, the Guardia Civil has said that the land was not buildable and therefore a crime of fraud had taken place, and this part of the investigation is still under reporting restrictions. The declarations continue from the arrested civil servants from the land registry, some in payments, others in Hacienda, as well as three management auxiliaries. The Guardia Civil says that the civil servants, ‘coordinated by a lawyer, modified the data base of the land registry with the end of introducing the false information to give legal coverage to the construction of homes on non-buildable land. The Guardia Civil contends that in exchange they received illegal commissions. Rafael Yus from the Nature Studies Group GENA said that he was not surprised by the ex-Mayor’s new arrest. He said the modification to the land registry was ‘part of what they do here’ and claimed it was ‘a corruption which extends to other municipalities, but which it difficult to demonstrate’.

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Card firm in breast implant refund

 

A Midlands woman who was given PIP breast implants that ruptured has recouped the full cost of the surgery from her credit card company. She said Lloyds TSB refunded her £3,700 on the grounds that she was sold faulty goods. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) said the move should offer a "ray of hope" to other patients with PIP implants. The woman, a hairdresser in her 40s from the Midlands who does not want to be identified, underwent a breast enlargement operation in 2008. She discovered she had been given PIP implants last September when she found a lump and went to a breast cancer clinic. "I was quite worried, but I was told it was just a rupture of my implants. It was only later I realised there was a health risk. I was really quite poorly with it," she said. The woman had the implants removed on the NHS in October, and contacted a firm of solicitors to see if she could get her money back. Because the company that performed the surgery had gone into administration, she was advised to check if she paid by credit card. Having discovered that she did use plastic to pay for the procedure, she applied to Lloyds TSB for a refund and received the money in full three months later. The woman said the credit card company were "wonderful" and stressed that she only had to fill in one form to get the reimbursement. "If I had gone through the solicitors they would have taken a sizeable part of it. Women need to be aware they can easily do it themselves," she said. Fazel Fatah, a consultant plastic surgeon and president of BAAPS, said: "We're delighted that at least a proportion of women who chose this method of payment should now have recourse to securing reimbursement for what are clearly defective, substandard goods." Around 40,000 women in the UK received implants manufactured by the now-closed French company Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP), mostly in private UK clinics. The implants were filled with non-medical grade silicone intended for use in mattresses. Lloyds TSB said it could not comment on the woman's individual case. But a spokeswoman for the bank said: "One of the advantages of using a credit card to pay for goods and services is that consumers can make a Section 75 claim if there has been a misrepresentation or breach of contract, providing the cost is above £100 and less than £30,000. Every Section 75 claim is different and each one will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

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Families in Spain face eviction over stranger loans

 

Fighting eviction for failing to pay the mortgage on his home in Spain's capital, Nelson Castillo is now grappling not only with his own debts but also those of a family he does not know. The 39-year-old and his wife acted as guarantors of another Ecuadoran family's loan under a programme run by an agency that negotiated loans for immigrants. In return, that family acted as the guarantor for Castillo's loan. Now, both families are in arrears. And each of them is legally responsible for its own loan and for the loan it guaranteed. "We were two families and we did not know each other. Ecuadorans are like that. We had to sign the papers and that's it. Goodbye, and each side went its own way," said Castillo. Dozens of anti-eviction activists had gathered outside his Madrid apartment building on Tuesday to prevent court clerks and bank officials from ejecting Castillo and his family from their home. Inside the apartment a volunteer psychologist tried to comfort Castillo's wife, 40-year-old Kelly Herrera, who sat in distress on the couch while the couple talked to police. The couple were given until March 30 to pay their debt of 222,000 euros ($291,000) claimed by the bank. And they are still liable for the loan given to the other family. "Today they are demanding my loan. But later on they will demand the second," said Castillo. The couple's lawyer Rafael Mayoral had requested that the eviction be blocked for "humanitarian reasons" because their two children are minors and a knee injury prevents Herrera from working at the moment. But above all the lawyer argued that the couple are "victims of a swindle". The couple and nine other families are suing an agency, Central Hipotecaria del Inmigrante, which ran a system of "cross guarantors" for loans among people that did not always know each other. "It was a pyramid scheme of financial risk management," said Mayoral. Despite the investigation under way into the agency, the courts have refused to issue a moratorium on evictions. Last week the government approved a voluntary "code of conduct" for banks that aims to help poor homeowners settle their debts and reduce a wave of evictions brought on by Spain's economic crisis. For families whose members are all out of work and have no other source of income, the code obliges signatory banks to restructure their mortgage debt by for example lengthening the term of the loan or reducing its interest rate. The goal is to reduce the number of evictions in Spain, which amount to about 300,000 since the collapse of a property bubble in 2008. But the new code will not help Castillo and his family. "The bank did not give me any option, I wanted to give them the apartment in exchange for clearing my debt but they were not interested," he said. Castillo, a waiter, said with pride that he "only spent a few months out of work" since he moved to Spain in 1996. In 2006 he and his wife decided to buy an apartment while Spain was still in the midst of a property boom. The couple took out a mortgage with a variable rate that started out with a monthly payment of 900 euros. But as Euribor interest rates rose, their monthly mortgage payment shot up to 1,420 euros. "It became impossible to pay. I earned 1,000 euros a month and my wife also did not earn much. Things became complicated. I tried to reach an agreement with the bank but it was not possible. I stopped paying," said Castillo. Castillo said he did not know if the family which signed as the guarantor of his loan has suffered any consequences because he stopped making his mortgage payments. "I only met them the day we signed the papers," he said.

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Spanish House Prices Tumble

 

Spanish house prices tumbled at their fastest pace on record in the fourth quarter, a sign that a long-running property bust will continue to weigh on Spanish households and banks. House prices fall over 11.2% in the fourth-quarter of 2011-the fastest contraction on record. WSJ's Sara Schaefer Munoz has been looking at the data and analyzes how this affects its efforts to deal with its debt crisis. House prices fell on average by 11.2% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, well below the 7.4% decline in the third quarter, while prices of used homes was down 13.7% in the period, the country's statistics agency INE said Thursday. Both readings are by far the worst since INE started recording countrywide prices in 2007, the peak year for Spain's decade-long property boom. Previously, annual price declines had bottomed out at 7.7% in 2009, and analysts say house prices have only rarely fallen year-to-year since at least the 1970s. The drop indicates Spanish property prices are now correcting at a similar pace to that seen in the U.S. soon after the 2008 financial crisis, and may fall further at least this year. In previous quarters, price drops were somewhat contained, the result of support efforts by the government and banks, fearful of the effect of a housing collapse. Spanish banks hold more than €400 billion ($521.32 billion) worth of loans to the construction and real-estate sector, backed by collateral that loses value as property prices slide further. The amount is equivalent to around 40% of Spain's gross domestic product. TK Raj Badiani, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said government data indicates Spanish house prices are down more than 20% from the 2007-2008 peak, even though other evidence points to a possible drop of more than 30%. "The continued imbalance between the supply and demand of housing suggests that house prices will continue to fall throughout 2012," Mr. Badiani said. "The outlook remains bleak, with the demand for housing expected to shrink throughout 2012 with debt-laden households struggling to cope with a devastated labor market and limited access to credit." Last month, Spain's Finance Minister Luis de Guindos presented a clean-up plan that will force banks to set aside an additional €50 billion this year to cover losses from souring loans, mostly property-related. The plan also seeks to allow a faster correction of the property market this year, so that lower prices trigger some demand in the moribund sector. Earlier this week, INE data showed Spain's property sales continued their recent slide in January, with a 26% annual decline. Last year, just over 361,000 homes were sold in Spain, less than half the number sold in 2007. The clean-up plan and other reforms may only have a delayed effect on the euro zone's fourth-largest economy, the Ernst & Young consultancy said in a report. A lack of demand amid an economic contraction that may stretch until 2014 should keep house prices falling for the next three years, Ernst & Young added. Meanwhile, Spain's bond auction was a mixed bag Thursday, with the Treasury selling slightly less than the maximum targeted amount but paying mostly lower yields to investors. The infusion of cheap cash from the European Central Bank has buttressed bond markets across the 17-nation euro zone, but not always equally. Spain's government bond market hasn't kept pace, while Italy, which at the end of last year had been lumped together with Spain as possibly becoming the "next domino," has swapped places with Spain as the country having to pay less of a premium on its debt. The contrasting fortunes also reflects the market's confidence in Italy's ability to make progress on the fiscal front while Spain falters. Italy's economy is likely to record a primary surplus in 2012. Spain unilaterally revised its budget deficit targets and analysts are skeptical if even those targets will be met.

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