Three Killed As Storm Hits Spain, Forces Closure Of Schools

 

A winter storm which has killed three people lashed much of eastern Spain for a third day on Tuesday, cutting power, forcing the closure of schools and severing road and rail links.

National weather agency Aemet placed most of northeastern Spain on alert because of the storm packing gusts of over 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour, heavy snowfall, freezing rain and massive waves which smashed into seafront promenades, damaging shops and restaurants.

Some 220,000 people lost power for several hours in the province of Girona in the northeastern region of Catalonia, local emergency services said.

The AP7 highway linking France and Spain — an important truck route — was cut at the border due to the heavy snowfall as several rail links were interrupted, local authorities said.

Classes were cancelled for some 170,000 students in Catalonia and the eastern region of Valencia on Tuesday.

The storm, which hit Spain on Sunday, has so far claimed the lives of three people, including a 54-year-old homeless woman from Romania who was found dead in a park.

It began to affect southern France on Tuesday, cutting power to around 1,000 households in the Pyrenees-Orientales region on the border with Spain.

AFP

Relief For Barca As Messi Ensures Setien Enjoys Winning Start

 

 

Quique Setien may want a different Barcelona but he needed the same old Lionel Messi on Sunday as the Argentinian gave his new coach a winning start with the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Granada.

Messi’s strike in the 76th minute won a cagey contest at the Camp Nou and prevented the much-anticipated launch of Setien’s new era becoming something of a damp squib.

Victory also sends Barca back to the top of La Liga on goal difference, after Real Madrid had briefly claimed first place following their win over Sevilla on Saturday.

It would have been different if Granada’s Yan Eteki hadn’t struck the post with just over 20 minutes left or their central defender German Sanchez not been sent off for a needless second yellow card soon after.

The extra man was the boost Barca needed and Messi duly poked home his 17th goal in 21 games this season following good work by Arturo Vidal, Antoine Griezmann and the 20-year-old Riqui Puig.

All three had reasons to impress, particularly Puig, whose inclusion on the bench was an early indication of Setien’s belief in youth. Puig’s contribution after coming on should mean more opportunities are to come.

Setien said last week that if he could make one guarantee, it was that Barcelona would play good football while he is in charge and although few could argue this was a transformative display following the sacking of Ernesto Valverde, there were certainly some encouraging signs.

The passing was faster, the pressing higher and Messi spent most of the match playing down the middle, with Griezmann on the left and Ansu Fati, another youngster, on the right.

Slick Barca dominate

Setien claimed on Saturday he would never go home happy after winning and playing badly but a 1-0 victory gets his tenure off to a positive start and, with Real Madrid showing no sign of stuttering, he could hardly afford anything less.

His team had 83 per cent possession in the first half but chances were not as clear-cut and, as it was under Valverde, nearly everything went through Messi.

His driving run teed up Fati, who shot over, and then a cutting reverse pass set Alba away but Fati failed to finish at the back post.

Messi won the ball back on the ground and then nipped past two players. He flashed wide at the end of a fluid team move and missed from two free-kicks.

Barca were slick, evidently trying to pass faster and press with more aggression. Messi and Sergio Busquets chased and Griezmann did too, at one point earning the approval of the home fans after sprinting to provide cover at right-back.

Vidal has always harried and when he won the ball back early in the second half, Barca had a four against two. But Messi’s pass was heavy and the angle for Vidal became too acute.

The game drifted and tension grew but two moments proved crucial. First Eteki’s shot was kept out only by the post as he drove hard past the right hand of Ter Stegen.

Then, less than five minutes later, Granada were reduced to 10 men after German picked up a second yellow card for a late hack on Messi. It left Granada needing to survive 21 minutes and they only made it through eight.

Puig, on for Ivan Rakitic, recovered possession in the corner before Messi picked up the ball centrally. In a flash, he played in Griezmann, who found Vidal, whose swivelled a flick back into the path of Messi and he poked a finish into the corner.

Setien threw both arms into the air and looked to the sky, with joy and also relief.

Barcelona Set To Sack Valverde, Reports Suggest

 

 

Barcelona are set to sack their coach, Ernesto Valverde, according to reports in the Spanish press.

Valverde took training on Monday morning but his future looks bleak, with the club expected to announce his departure following a board meeting in the afternoon at Camp Nou.

Valverde arrived more than two hours early at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and took training as usual, despite Barca’s public pursuit of their iconic former midfielder Xavi Hernandez at the weekend.

Xavi, currently the coach of Qatari team Al-Sadd, indicated he is not prepared to take charge immediately but the negotiations left Valverde in limbo.

After training on Monday, Valverde met with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Bartomeu then drove to Camp Nou, where he held a board meeting with several club officials including chief executive Oscar Grau, technical secretary Javier Bordas, vice president Jordi Cardoner and sporting director Eric Abidal.

According to Catalunya Radio, Valverde was told the club would negotiate the terms of his exit with his agent. ESPN added that Valverde had collected his belongings from the training ground.

Barca could install a temporary replacement like B team coach Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta, perhaps with a view to appointing Xavi at the end of the season.

Otherwise, they could opt for a more permanent solution immediately. Former Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is a viable option, despite his previous claims he would never coach Barcelona due to connections with rivals Espanyol.

Ex-Real Betis coach Quique Setien, renowned for an attractive, attacking style of play, is out of work and has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Barcelona’s open hankering after Xavi has left a bitter taste, particularly with those who believe Valverde, who always speaks with sense and integrity, deserves better.

“I feel bad for Valverde, he doesn’t deserve this treatment,” former Barcelona coach, and current Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola said on Sunday. “I hope the situation can be resolved soon.”

European concerns

Barcelona sit top of La Liga, level on points with Real Madrid, and they face Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League next month, after sailing through top of their group.

Yet skepticism around Valverde’s suitability has long been building, with every loss prompting renewed speculation about his future.

Underpinning the doubts are Barca’s last two exits from the Champions League, after the team followed an incredible collapse against Roma in 2018 with a remarkably similar capitulation against Liverpool last year.

Given the obsession with bolstering their record in Europe, many were surprised the club did not opt for a fresh start last summer, even if Valverde’s domestic record has been excellent.

In his two completed seasons, Barca have won two La Liga titles, as well as the Copa del Rey in 2018, and another league title remains very much in sight this term, despite second-placed Madrid’s impressive form in recent weeks.

But Barcelona’s performances have been unconvincing — they have drawn three of their last four league games — and the flaws in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid on Thursday, in which they conceded two late goals, felt all too familiar.

There have also been lingering concerns about a more pragmatic style of play, which for some has veered too far from the club’s possession-football DNA.

Nostalgia remains for the brilliance of Guardiola’s side, even if most of the players he was blessed with have gone.

When Valverde arrived to succeed Luis Enrique in 2017, Barcelona were wounded, hurting after the shock departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and humiliated, as consecutive defeats by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup hinted at trouble for the season ahead.

Instead, Valverde steadied the ship and galvanised the team.

They lost one league game en route to winning the title and the year after, they won again, finishing 11 points ahead of Atletico and 19 clear of Real.

Increasingly, though, Valverde’s achievements have faded from view and his failures then began to overshadow them, leaving Barcelona to consider that his time might be up.

Spain Parliament To Debate PM´s Bid To Form New Government

 

 

 

Spain’s parliament will Saturday begin debating acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s bid to form a new government following a November general election which his Socialists won with fewer seats than in April, the assembly said.

Parliament speaker Meritxell Batet on Tuesday informed party representatives that the investiture debate will take place on January 4, 5 and 7, the assembly said in a text message to journalists.

Batet will make the formal call of the debate with details of the exact timings on January 2, it added.

Sanchez needs an absolute majority of at least 176 lawmakers in the 350-seat parliament to take office in a first vote which is expected to take place on January 5.

If he fails this first vote, a simple majority — more yes votes than no — is needed in a second vote that will be held 48 hours later on January 7.

Sanchez’s Socialists won 120 seats in a repeat general election on November 10 — three fewer than it won in April — and it has signed an agreement to form a coalition government with hard-left party Podemos which won 35 seats.

The Socialists have also secured the backing of several other smaller formations including the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) but to be sworn in for another term they still need the backing of Catalan separatist party ERC, which won 13 seats in last month’s polls, Spain’s fourth general election in four years.

The ERC has said it is willing to abstain from voting, which would be enough to allow Sanchez to win the simple majority he needs in the second investiture vote, but the party will only make its final decision on Thursday.

Sanchez first became prime minister in 2018 when he removed his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote.

After April’s general election he failed to get parliament’s backing to form a government because his talks with Podemos to form a coalition broke down, sparking the fresh polls.

AFP

Saudi Sentences To Death Yemeni Attacker On Spanish Performers

 

 

A Saudi criminal court sentenced a Yemeni man to death Sunday for a knife attack on a Spanish theatre group performing in Riyadh last month, state television said.

The court also sentenced an accomplice to 12 years and six months in jail for the November 11 attack which Riyadh has linked to militant group Al-Qaeda, and which Madrid said left four performers wounded.

“The criminal court issues a preliminary ruling handing the death sentence to the perpetrator of the terrorist attack… in Riyadh,” the official Al-Ekhbariya television reported.

The assailant, identified by Saudi police as a 33-year-old Yemeni, went on a stabbing spree during a live musical in the capital’s King Abdullah Park, one of the venues hosting the two-month “Riyadh Season” entertainment festival.

Last week, Al-Ekhbariya said the attacker took orders from an Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, but so far there has been no claim of responsibility from the group.

Al-Ekhbariya did not offer any details on his alleged accomplice.

Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and has also been involved in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is active in Yemen, is considered by the United States as the radical group’s most dangerous branch.

Observers also point at burbling resentment among arch-conservatives in the kingdom over the multi-billion dollar entertainment push.

The Riyadh Season festival is part of a broad government push to open up the kingdom to tourists and diversify its economy away from oil.

De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pursued sweeping social reforms that mark the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom’s modern history, allowing mixed-gender concerts and the reopening of cinemas.

Although the reforms are wildly popular among Saudi Arabia’s mainly young population, they risk angering religious hardliners in the deeply conservative nation.

300 Migrants Rescued Off Spain At Christmas

File Photo: Migrants

 

Around 100 migrants were rescued off the coast of Spain on Thursday, adding to around another 200 plucked off makeshift boats on Christmas Day, Spain’s maritime rescue service said.

More than half of them were found off the Costa Blanca on Spain’s southeastern coast, with 10 people rescued just before dawn, among them eight men, a woman and a child.

Later in the morning, rescuers saved 16 men off a boat near Torrevieja, while another 12 men were rescued from a dinghy off Xabia, some 45 kilometres (27 miles) up the coast from Benidorm.

And on Spain’s southern coast, 17 men were found in waters off Cabo de Gata near Almeria while another man was found floating on what rescuers described as “an inflatable toy boat” in the Motril area, with his friend feared drowned.

Another 39 people reached the shore at Punta Jandia on the southwestern tip of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, the spokesman said.

There was no immediate information on the nationalities of those rescued.

Some 200 others were rescued on Christmas Day in a number of separate operations off the coast of Spain and Morocco.

About 120 of them were picked up around the Zaffarin islands off Morocco and the tiny islet of Alboran, Spain’s coastguard said.

Several other dinghies were found off the southeastern coast of Spain, off Gibraltar and near the Canary Islands.

So far this year, at least 1,250 men, women and children have died attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said in a statement correct to December 20.

Spain Arrests Chinese Gang Using ‘Slaves’ To Grow Marijuana

 

Spanish police said Thursday they have broken up a Chinese gang that allegedly forced illegal migrants to work in “conditions of semi-slavery” to produce marijuana for export across Europe.

The gang is suspected of growing marijuana in warehouses rented in industrial areas, mainly in the eastern region of Valencia. It was shipped to other EU nations, especially Britain and the Netherlands, via private courier firms in small packages labelled as containing clothes, police said in a statement.

READ ALSO: 12 Injured As Police Clash With Catalan Protesters Outside Camp Nou Stadium

Thirty-six Chinese and Vietnamese men who had been forced by the gang to work round-the-clock in the warehouses in “degrading conditions of semi-slavery” were freed during the operation, which followed an eight-month investigation, the police statement added.

“Living conditions inside the warehouses were very precarious, unhealthy and with poor hygiene,” police said.

“Some of the victims said they were not allowed out on the streets and could not communicate with the outside; they only received food to be able to continue working like slaves.”

Police estimate the gang had exported around 4.2 tonnes of marijuana since the beginning of 2018.

Officers also freed 13 Chinese women who the gang is believed to have forced to work as prostitutes.

Police arrested a total of 81 people as part of the operation. The vast majority were Chinese nationals but there were also a few British and Vietnamese nationals among those detained, a police spokeswoman said.

The authorities dismantled 19 warehouses used by the gang and seized over 22,000 marijuana plants weighing some 3.4 tonnes, police said.

AFP

El Clasico: Spain To Deploy 3,000 Security Personnel

 

Spain will deploy a large-scale security operation involving 3,000 personnel at the Clasico on Wednesday, when the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos look set to share the limelight with Catalan separatist protests.

Tension in Spain’s north-east region boiled over in October when demonstrations and riots caused the original La Liga fixture between Barcelona and Real Madrid to be postponed.

Democratic Tsunami, the protest group advocating another independence referendum for Catalonia, has called publicly for its supporters to gather at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium from four hours before kick-off at 1900 GMT.

Renewed fears of unrest have even raised the possibility of the match being postponed for a second time.

“It will be played, the Clasico will be played,” Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said on Thursday, a pledge repeated in recent days by sports, political and police authorities in Spain.

Meetings have taken place between the police, clubs and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to ensure the safe arrival of the two squads and referees, as well as the nearly 100,000 fans expected to attend.

The operation will involve some 3,000 security personnel, as well as a cordon to prevent demonstrations blocking entrances to the ground.

In the stands, the numbers of private security staff will also be increased to reduce the threat of pitch invasions that could interrupt the game.

“The operation will ensure that the Clasico is played normally,” said the chief commissioner of the Catalan regional police Eugeni Sallent.

The fixture was supposed to be played on October 26 but the RFEF decided to postpone “due to exceptional causes”.

Violent protests had broken out in Catalonia after nine separatist leaders were sentenced to heavy prison sentences for their involvement in the independence referendum of 2017.

Democratic Tsunami has previously received support from former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and hopes to transmit its message through one of the world’s most famous football matches, which has an estimated global audience of 650 million.

In just a few months of existence, the group has already led major acts of disruption. In October, they partially blocked Barcelona airport and in November, they cut off the main motorway between Spain and France for two days.

Close association 

Tsunami aims to promote both “in the stands and on the pitch” its slogan: “Spain Sit and Talk”, a call to negotiate a referendum for independence.

But any details or their plans for protesting around the game remain unknown.

“The plans announced in advance are usually based on three things: expectation, surprise and execution,” said the organisation on Saturday during an exchange of messages with the Catalan regional television TV3.

The group has insisted “it has not said it wants to block or suspend the game.”

Barcelona have historically had a close association with Catalanism, with Camp Nou routinely used as a setting for flags, banners and chants in support of the movement.

After the rulings on the nine separatist leaders were announced in October, the club released a statement in which it declared prison sentences were not the answer.

“We know we are living in a complex social and political situation but I am convinced that it is compatible with playing a football match,” said Bartomeu.

The club could also suffer the consequences of any altercations or interruptions during the fixture.

At a meeting in Madrid last week, the RFEF warned it “will apply the regulations in force,” which range from heavy economic sanctions to the closure of Camp Nou to supporters.

AFP

Nigerian Govt Condemns Attack On Amaechi In Spain

Reps Summon Amaechi Over Corruption Allegations
Mr Rotimi Amaechi (file)

 

 

The Nigerian Government has condemned the attack on the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, in Spain.

Mr Amaechi who is in Madrid for a climate change event came under attack by some Nigerians living in the European country.

He explained via his Twitter handle that it took the intervention of the Spanish police to bring the situation under control, adding that he was not hurt.

 

READ ALSO: Nigerians ‘Attack’ Rotimi Amaechi In Spain

Reacting to the incident in a statement, the Chairman/CEO of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, thanked the Nigerian Mission in Spain for its prompt intervention.

She also commended the Spanish police who ensured that the attacks did not escalate any further.

Dabiri-Erewa appealed to Nigerians to be of good behavior wherever they find themselves.

According to her, such incidents ultimately tarnish Nigeria’s image within the host country, with multiplier negative effects on law-abiding and well-behaved Nigerians living in such a country.

Nigerians ‘Attack’ Rotimi Amaechi In Spain

Amaechi Describes Claim Of Appointing Governorship Candidate As Mischievous

 

Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi has said that he was attacked by some Nigerians in Spain. 

The minister revealed this via a statement on his Twitter page.

In his tweet, Mr. Amaechi said, “Some minutes ago, I was attacked by a few misguided Nigerians while on national assignment at a climate change event in Madrid, Spain”.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: IPOB Members Attack Ekweremadu In Germany

According to his tweet, the assailants were quickly repelled by the Spanish police before they could do any harm.

He noted that he is doing fine, adding that he was not hurt.

Zidane Says Real ‘Not Looking For Revenge’ Against PSG

Zidane Downplays Reported Madrid's Move For Pogba
Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane. AFP

Zinedine Zidane said that his Real Madrid side are “not looking to get revenge” when they host Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday after a 3-0 defeat in France earlier in the group stage.

Pressure mounted on Zidane after that loss at the Parc des Princes in September, but the 13-time European champions have since enjoyed an upturn in fortunes and sit behind leaders Barcelona only on goal difference in La Liga.

Real can join PSG in securing a last-16 place with victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, or if Club Brugge fail to win at Galatasaray in the other Group A match.

“We aren’t looking to get revenge after what happened earlier in the group,” Zidane said on Monday.

“But we want to play a good game of course and maintain our form.

“It’s the kind of game where you can confirm you’re on a good run. We want to win because we’re at home and we want to play good football.

“I want to see my side play 90 minutes at their best.”

READ ALSO: Pinnick Meets England-born Midfielder Ebere Eze Over Chances To Play For Nigeria

Frenchman Zidane was rebuked by PSG sporting director Leonardo earlier this month for comments about a possible move for his compatriot Kylian Mbappe, when he said the Paris forward’s “dream is to play for Real Madrid”.

The 47-year-old made clear again his admiration for Mbappe ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.

“You know that I’ve known Mbappe for a long time and that I’m in love with him as a person because of when he came here on trial a long time ago,” said Zidane.

“Having said that, he’s our opponent and there’s no more to it.”

Real have recovered in the Champions League after also being held to a 2-2 home draw by Brugge in their second game, beating Galatasaray home and away including a 6-0 thrashing in Madrid last time out.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is hoping the Spanish giants can show how far they have come since the loss in Paris.

“The first meeting with them helped us learn a lot — it wasn’t a good game but we’ve improved a lot lately,” said the Belgian.

“It’s not revenge, more wanting to get one over on another big team who have aspirations to win the Champions League and we need to show how good we are.”

PSG ready for ‘big challenge’

PSG lead Real, who knocked them out of the tournament in the last 16 two years ago, by five points with two matches remaining and can secure top spot in the group by avoiding defeat.

“They have great qualities and a great mentality, it is a big challenge,” said Paris coach Thomas Tuchel.

“The match will be different from the first leg. The Bernabeu is a very hard venue to play. Madrid are in good form, they score a lot and barely concede.

“But we have a balanced and dangerous team. We are ready for this challenge, I am sure of that. We have to work together and suffer together.”

The French champions are still without injured duo Ander Herrera and Thilo Kehrer, but have Neymar back after the world’s most expensive player returned for his first appearance since October 5 against Lille on Friday.

Protesters Block Spain-France Highway

Catalan regional police 'Mossos D'Esquadra' stand guard as protesters block the AP-7 highway at the Spanish-French border in La Jonquera northern Spain, on November 11, 2019 during an action called by Tsunami Democratic movement for civil disobedience actions. LLUIS GENE / AFP
Catalan regional police ‘Mossos D’Esquadra’ stand guard as protesters block the AP-7 highway at the Spanish-French border in La Jonquera northern Spain, on November 11, 2019 during an action called by Tsunami Democratic movement for civil disobedience actions. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Catalan separatist activists blocked traffic on Monday on a motorway linking Spain and France, in a fresh protest against the sentencing last month of nine of their leaders to lengthy jail terms.

Demonstrators cut the AP7 motorway at La Jonquera near the city of Girona in eastern Spain, a day after a repeat general election in which Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist emerged as winners but weakened, while far-right party Vox surged to third place on the back of its hardline stance against separatism.

Dozens of vehicles blocked the motorway near the border with France while some 300 people set up a barricade, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

Some demonstrators began to set up a stage and speakers which they brought to the scene in vans.

Catalonia’s regional road department confirmed the motorway was cut in both directions at La Jonquera.

The protest was called by a new, mysterious organisation called “Democratic Tsunami” which last month sent thousands of people to block access to Barcelona airport in a protest which ended in clashes between demonstrators and police.

“This mobilisation is a cry to the international community so that it makes the Spanish state understand that the only possible path is to sit down and talk,” the group said in a message sent to its followers on encrypted messaging service Telegram.

Radical separatist group CDR also called on its supporters to head to La Jonquera to block the highway.

Catalonia was rocked by days of mass, sometimes violent, pro-independence rallies after Spain’s Supreme Court on October 14 sentenced nine politicians and activists to jail for up to 13 years for their role in a failed secession bid in 2017.

Demonstrators have frequently cut road and rail links between Spain and France while many shops in downtown Barcelona have been shut during the rallies and there are growing concerns about the impact of the unrest on business in Spain’s second-largest city.

 

AFP