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Madrid state of emergency: Spanish police enforce COVID-19 travel restrictions

The Spanish government has declared a state of emergency in Madrid and the surrounding region to com..

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The Spanish government has declared a state of emergency in Madrid and the surrounding region to combat rising cases of coronavirus.

It follows a ruling by the high court in Madrid on Thursday, which rejected measures forced on the region by the central government, including the partial lockdown of the Spanish capital and nine neighbouring municipalities.

The move on Friday by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government takes immediate effect and last for two weeks. It forces the authorities in Madrid to restore travel restrictions that had been brought in by the government but were struck down by the court ruling.

The measures mean all non-essential trips in and out of the capital and nine of its suburbs are prohibited, affecting some 4.8 million people.

They also mean renewed restrictions on bars and restaurants, stores, sports venues, gyms and hairdressers — and limit to six the number of people able to meet in public or private.

Spain’s interior minister said 7,000 police would be deployed to enforce the restrictions. Officers duly began carrying out checks on Friday.

The government wanted to act quickly as Monday is a public holiday and it wanted to prevent thousands of city-dwellers heading out of the area for the weekend.

Emergency follows court ruling

The state of emergency declared by the national government is the latest twist in a tug-of-war with Madrid authorities over efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus, in a region experiencing one of Europe’s worst outbreaks.

It followed Thursday’s successful legal challenge by officials in the capital against restrictions imposed by the centre-left national coalition led by Sanchez’s Socialist Party and Unidas Podemos.

Madrid’s conservative regional government opposed the constraints, saying they were draconian and hurt the economy. It argued that more moderate measures were enough to fight the virus.

The court agreed, saying such restrictions on freedom could not be introduced without bringing in a state of alarm.

It “rejected the ratification (of the measures), because they harmed the fundamental rights and freedoms” of the 4.5 million inhabitants affected by the partial lockdown, which came into force a week ago, the court said in a statement.

The national government said late on Thursday night that Sánchez had spoken by telephone with Madrid’s conservative regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso and gave her an ultimatum. Sánchez reportedly told Ayuso that if she did not quickly tighten measures or make a formal request for his national government to declare a state of emergency, then his government would go ahead and declare it anyway.

A state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers in time of crises to temporarily limit the constitutional rights of citizens. In this case, it limits their freedom of movement by restarting perimeter controls on Madrid and some nearby towns also suffering from high contagion rates.

COVID-19 power struggle

Ayuso had previously been unwilling to implement harsher COVID-19 measures arguing they would cause further damage to the economy, but on Thursday she asked inhabitants not to leave the city.

“We once again ask all residents not to leave Madrid and to follow all health recommendations, especially in the coming days with the extended weekend,” she said, referring to a national holiday on Monday.

Spain’s national government ordered two weeks of new restrictions that started at 10 pm last Friday a week ago, despite pushback from regional officials.

But Madrid’s autonomous authority clashed with Spain’s central government over the order, saying it would comply but would simultaneously challenge it in the courts.

Madrid is leading the resurgence of the virus in Spain, which has Europe’s highest cumulative caseload — 870,000 confirmed cases since the onset of the pandemic.

The surge of cases in the Spanish capital has hit hospitals hard, with officials saying that over 40% of the region’s ICU capacity is now being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

The bickering between Madrid’s conservative-led government and Sánchez, the leader of the Socialist Party, has angered many Spaniards who find it petty to use a public health tragedy for political skirmishing.

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Man jailed for WhatsApp threats to kill Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

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A man has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for threatening to kill Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Manuel Murillo Sanchez was found guilty by Spain’s National Court of preparing to commit assassination and illegal weapons offences.

The 65-year-old former security guard from Tarrasa was arrested in 2018 after making deaths threats in a WhatsApp group.

The court heard how Murillo Sanchez had offered to act as a “sniper” and “hunt down” the Spanish PM “like a deer”.

The suspect’s comments came after the Spanish government had ordered for the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco to be exhumed.

The court rejected his defence that he had been intoxicated when sending the WhatsApp messages and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison for attempted murder.

He was also given a five-year sentence for possessing illegal weapons and banned from owning any firearms for eight years. The verdict is subject to appeal.

The remains of Franco were removed to a cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid in October 2019, prompting anger from far-right groups in Spain.

In a WhatsApp group, Murillo Sanchez had allegedly told fellow users that he was a “sniper with a precise shot” who could target Prime Minister Sanchez.

“We cannot allow them to humiliate Generalissimo Francisco Franco … If necessary, I will go armed and sit on Franco’s tomb, and if they come close, I will shoot”, he reportedly wrote.

The court said the man’s “determination” and the number of weapons seized from him shows “a high level of danger” even if he had not made any specific plans to kill the Spanish PM.

The suspect had repeatedly expressed “his intention to finish off the president of the government” to “bring about a change in the Spanish political situation”, a court statement read.

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Barcelona seeks to ban smoking on all beaches, after positive pilot scheme

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Barcelona City Council is seeking to ban smoking on all of the city’s 10 beaches from this July, following a successful pilot scheme that was carried out on four beaches last summer.

‘The measure aims to facilitate healthier places to live together, with less waste and respect for the environment,’ the council said.

It said that there was a ‘good reception’ to the pilot test of smokeless beaches carried out last year, and which was assessed positively by the public with a score of 8.2 points out of 10. It also resulted in ‘a significant reduction of highly polluting cigarette butts abandoned in the sand’, the council added, resulting in the authorities pushing for an extension of the ban on all 10 beaches of Barcelona’s coastline for this summer.

The council said on Friday that it would be launching a campaign this month to inform residents of the new measure, as well as spreading awareness of its benefits. When the restriction comes into effect in July, it will be monitored by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB).

Last summer smoking was prohibited on four of the ten beaches in Barcelona (Sant Miquel, Somorrostro, Nova Icària and Nova Mar Bella) from 29 May until 12 September. The regulations last year did not allow Barcelona City Council to actually apply sanctions, but bathers could be told to stop smoking by police officers, and if they then refused to do so, they could have faced fines for disobedience.

According to reports, only 2.6% of beach-goers defied the ban at the four beaches last summer, whilst 19% of those at the city’s other six beaches smoked.

The campaign last year highlighted that 13.8% of deaths annually in Barcelona are attributed to tobacco consumption – some 2,200 people. The campaign also focused on the danger of second-hand smoke, considered particularly harmful for children. A study last year revealed that more than 135,000 cases of respiratory diseases and over 3,000 hospitalisations in children aged under 12 in Spain are attributed to passive smoking.

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking, approximately five billion cigarette butts end up in the sea each year. Discarded cigarettes contain substances such as cadmium, iron, arsenic, nickel, copper, zinc, or manganese – some of which are toxic to both human and marine life.

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Body of US software mogul John McAfee still in Barcelona morgue, seven months after his death

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The body of American anti-virus developer John McAfee remains in a morgue in the Barcelona City of Justice complex, in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, seven months after his death. It is currently located in the Legal Medicine Institute (Imelec), a grey building with honeycomb windows, while a judge has been preparing a report on his death.

That report, released this week, has determined that the software mogul died by suicide in his prison cell in Barcelona province on June 23, 2021 as he awaited extradition to the United States on charges of failing to file US tax returns from 2014 to 2018.

The 75-year-old’s family had raised questions about the circumstances of his death, even though an autopsy concluded that McAfee hung himself inside his cell at Brians 2 penitentiary in Sant Esteve Sesrovires. Prison workers found a suicide note in the pocket of his pants.

The months-long investigation is not quite over yet, as lawyers for McAfee’s family have appealed the Spanish judge’s decision to provisionally close the case. The provincial court of Barcelona must now decide whether to confirm the judge’s decision or order him to keep the investigation open. The family has argued that the autopsy was incomplete and lacked the “basic elements” to draw definitive conclusions about the cause of death, according to defense sources.

The building in Martorell (Barcelona) that houses the court that’s been investigating the case has so many structural deficiencies that in 2019, Spain’s legal watchdog, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), ordered two courtrooms closed because of safety hazards. The legal staff in this building is also dealing with a severe backlog of work, which partially explains the delay in concluding the McAfee investigation.

The cybersecurity entrepreneur’s family was very critical of the process from the beginning. His ex-wife, Janice McAfee, traveled to Barcelona and met with three prison officials at Brians 2, but she remained unconvinced by their explanations and questioned the suicide hypothesis. “The last thing he told me was ‘I love you and I’ll call you this evening. Those are not the words of someone who is suicidal’,” she said at the time.

Clear case

But medical experts who examined the body always believed it was a clear case of suicide. McAfee was found hanging from his cell, where he had asked to spend time. He was in pre-trial detention after being charged with tax evasion by the United States. He had been in prison for more than eight months while Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, considered the extradition request for failing to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018. On Wednesday morning, McAfee’s lawyers told him that the court had decided to approve his extradition to the US and in the afternoon he killed himself, according to the investigation.

McAfee was the creator of one of the most popular antivirus software programs on the market and was considered a genius in the tech world. His life, however, was plagued by controversy. In 2012, McAfee was named a person of interest by authorities in Belize investigating the murder of his neighbor, but he never faced trial because he fled before he could be questioned. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, McAfee was in Spain’s Catalonia region, where he spent most of the lockdown. Authorities believe he lived in a semi-abandoned hotel in Cambrils called Daurada Park Hotel. Two years earlier, during an administrative inspection, the Catalan police had discovered a cryptocurrency operation in the basement of the hotel.

In July 2021 Spain’s National Police were notified by Interpol about the charges for tax evasion and arrested him on October 3 at Barcelona’s El Prat airport as he was about to fly to Istanbul. The court’s extradition decision, however, could have been appealed, and McAfee’s defense was already working on this process.

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