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Madrid’s famous El Rastro market returns with new coronavirus safety measures



The famous El Rastro street market in the center of Madrid opened to the public on Sunday after being suspended for 37 weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Stallholders and visitors both agreed it is good to finally be back – albeit in a slightly different guise.

In a bid to reduce contagions, only half of the 1,000 stallholders are allowed to sell their wares, and capacity has been set at 2,702. Without the typical hustle and bustle, the outdoor market – which sells everything from clothes to antiques – has lost some of its character. But that does not deter one group of early arrivals, like Alexia, who came from the nearby city of Getafe to buy a pair of thermal pants. She’s annoyed that she hasn’t found them yet, but generally, the mood in El Rastro is positive. It’s better than nothing, say visitors and the stallholders.

It’s been 258 days since the last time El Rastro was open to the public, shortly before the government declared a state of alarm in mid-March. No one remembers a time when the popular Sunday market had been closed for a longer period.

Marcelo Bouso has been preparing his clothes stall since 8am. He carries the metal frames like a cross on his back to the top of Ribera de Curtidores street. Slowly he gets everything ready as just a few police officers walk past. He sells self-designed shirts and screenprints that he makes in El Tiemblo, in Ávila province, where he left from at 6.30am. The new spot he’s been assigned to in El Rastro is not too far away from his old one and he says he has had no problem finding it – a view shared by many vendors.

In front of his stand is the legendary antique store Galerías Piquer, which remains closed. It’s still early. During the months that El Rastro has been suspended, Bouso has done a bit of everything: painting homes, erecting fences, and working for a moving company. He has even participated the odd concert – he’s a percussionist in a batucada orchestra.

“It’s been years since I’ve been here,” says one local police officer standing at the corner of the bar Cascorro Uno, where other officers are drinking coffee before beginning their workday. One asks about how the new coronavirus safety measures are going. Under the new rules, each market stand has to be two meters apart. El Rastro is a sprawling market that covers several streets in the downtown neighborhood of La Latina. Now at every crossroad, there are large numbers of officers monitoring capacity. They form part of a team of 150 police officers tasked with ensuring that coronavirus restrictions are complied with.

Maite de la Fuente, 42, is taking out her merchandise from boxes, while the police tell the neighboring stand holder to only use the authorized space. Her father Ramón, who is retired, is there to lend her a hand. “I’m the understudy,” he jokes. “I only come out to play when I’m told to.”

Blue fences and plastic tape seal off the perimeter of the new Rastro market. Visitors can walk around freely on the sidewalk, but capacity is limited on the car-free streets, where the stands are located. Members of the Civil Protection force are using electronic counters to tally the number of people who are leaving and entering the allocated space.

Meanwhile, the sun is warming up Campillo del Nuevo Mundo square, another one of the popular corners of the street market. Sellers and buyers start to haggle over prices. Javier González, a 51-year-old vendor who has come all the way from Tarancón in Cuenca, is trying to sell a watch to a potential customer for €200 – a price that is instantly rejected. González drops the price to €150. “Look, it has green numbers,” he says in an effort to highlight its beauty and value. At a nearby stand, a similar scene is playing out over a statue of Baby Jesus that costs €60. It’s passed around as the customer begins to haggle a better price. Passers-by gather around to watch the negotiations. In this respect, save for the fact that everyone is wearing a face mask, El Rastro appears just like it was before the pandemic.

The streets begin filling up and by midday, El Rastro has recovered some of its characteristic bustle. But it’s nothing like the mass crowds that used to flock to the market every Sunday. Thanks to the large police numbers and safe distancing rules, El Rastro is at least no longer a haven for pickpockets. And it’s not just officers that are monitoring the situation. Police drones are also being used to control capacity at the market. While the drones fly above, the officer operating the device uses a walkie-talkie to call for a road to be cut off to ease the flow of visitors.

Not everyone, however, is pleased with how El Rastro’s first day back has been organized. Around 20 vendors from the Rastro Punto Es Association have been protesting outside Cascorro square against Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida of the conservative Popular Party (PP), yelling “Hands up, this is a robbery!” and “Resign, Almeida.” They complain that they were not warned that the streets were only going to be one way for visitors. The spokesperson of the association, Mayka Torralbo, accuses Madrid city officials of “improvising” measures, arguing that “neither vendors nor the public knows what rules to follow.”

Meanwhile, 60-year-old Ping, a Madrileño of Chinese origin, is walking through the market with his wife, son and his son’s girlfriend. When asked why he has come to El Rastro, he simply replies: “Today is the first day.” The family is from the Chinese province of Shaanxi, famous for its thousands of clay soldiers known as the Terracotta Army. Nothing at all like the porcelain figures and other odds and ends being sold by 44-year-old Pedro Escudero. “I am selling old things that my father had,” he says, pointing to a pillbox with a 1970s black and white photo of the Valley of the Fallen, the controversial memorial site to the victims of the Spanish Civil War where until last year the dictator Francisco Franco had been buried. “Let’s see if I make €30 or €40 to feed the kids.”

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



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



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



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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