Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Mercadona Rocked As Own Label Linked To Canine Deaths


Mercadona is in the middle of a public relations disaster after its ‘Compy’ own label dog food brand was linked to the deaths of several pets across Spain, after having caused kidney failure in the animals. . The deaths were initially recorded by pet owners in Andalucia, Murcia and Alicante, but new reports have claimed that similar cases have been found along the Costa del Sol. Several pet owners insisted that the deaths were caused after their pets ate the own label product, and following intense pressure, Mercadona has removed two variants of the ‘Compy’ range from select stores. The chain said it is now studying whether there indeed is a connection between the product and the deaths. It would not comment on whether the problem was caused by a recent shift in packaging of the product from tins to cartons. Mercadona added: “At this stage we have only removed the product as a precaution and we are waiting for the results of the analysis. We do not know with any certainty if the food is to blame”.

Friday, 24 February 2012

ENVELOPES full of cash, drug habits funded by EU grants and police taking payments to legalise prostitutes – you name it, it has happened in Spain.


 Add to those a snail-paced justice system and, a law society in Malaga that fails to scrutinize bent lawyers, and things start to look distinctly cloudy. Consider too that last week Spain’s top anti-corruption lawyer, Baltasar Garzon, was suspended from his post for illegally tapping the phones of lawyers, and most will come to the same conclusion. “Yes, corruption is certainly endemic in Spain,” says Gwilym Rhys-Jones, an Estepona-based financial expert. “Sadly there is a tradition of it and it became institutionalised since the late 1980s as nobody was dealing with it from the top down.” There is certainly nowhere better to highlight the problem than here on the Costa del Sol, where in Marbella for over two decades you could only get anything done if you were prepared to pay for it. Under the current Malaya corruption trial, centred around Marbella Town Hall, which has been going for over a year. Over a hundred councillors, mayors, businessmen and civil servants are currently on trial for taking backhanders totalling up to 2.4 billion euros. And sadly, the same state of affairs was taking place at hundreds of town halls around the country, with a central government apparently prepared to turn a blind eye. It led to hotels and golf courses being built in national parks, developments installed in river flood plains and hundreds of thousands of illegal – and unsellable – homes around the country. It comes as no surprise then that Transparency International has listed Spain as more corrupt than Uruguay, Chile and Qatar, and almost on a par with of Botswana – quite a feat for the fourth richest nation in the European Union. And while some might like to point the finger at the right or the left, the range of cases shows that bending the rules for personal gain goes right across the spectrum. The Conservative PP party has often been in the spotlight – most recently thanks to the Gurtel case, in Valencia – but the PSOE socialist party, particularly with the ERE pension scandal in Andalucia, certainly takes some beating. Even the royal family may have dipped its toes in the murky waters, with King Juan Carlos’ son-in-law about to stand trial for a misuse of public funds and embezzlement. So where did it all begin? Franco regarded it as the ‘necessary lubrication for the system’, according to historian Stanley Payne. While central government appears to be largely free of endemic corruption, in the regions it is quite a different story. In Andalucia, for example, UGT trade union leader Manuel Pastrana believes as many as 75 per cent of the region’s town halls are corrupt. This is partly down to the fact that much of Spain’s corruption is linked to illegal planning, which is said to be more profitable than drug dealing – mainly because tourism is the biggest earner on the Costa del Sol. It’s a simple tale, and sadly all too common. Developers purchase non-urban, rural land for knock-down prices, then pay corrupt town hall mayors to reclassify the land as available to develop. This leaves the developers to build whatever they like – and it is arrangements like this that explain the illegal 411-bedroom Algarrobico hotel in Almeria’s Cabo de Gata natural park – which will thankfully be demolished any day now. The question is, why are so many mayors and councillors tempted to the dark side, considering the possible environmental and criminal consequences? Aside from describing Spain as having the ‘slowest justice system in the known world’, investigator Rhys-Jones argues that it is human nature to be tempted by money once it’s dangled in front of you. “When people see a massive amount of money, they can’t help but steal it. It’s human nature,” he says, using the unscrupulous former Marbella mayor Jesus Gil as his example. Jesus Gil was described as the bad apple that spoilt Marbella’s bunch “Gil was a crook, but he started out with good intentions. Marbella was a mess in the 1980s. Property wasn’t selling. It was a dump filled with drugs and hookers. So Gil started a political party, the GAL, to try and sort it out.” But this apparent do-gooder turned resident evil, with many describing Gil – who was convicted in 2002 – as being the bad apple that spoiled Marbella’s bunch. Either way his legacy was a disaster and has led to the following three mayors – as well as his main cohort, planning boss Juan Antonio Roca, who became the svengali of the operation – all facing prison. Much of the corruption comes down to backgrounds and a lack of education, believes Marbella-based lawyer Antonio Flores. “A lot of mayors have previously had rural-based jobs, without the ability to make any money,” he explains. “The moment they have responsibility, the temptation to make money becomes too great. After four years in power, they’ll often have to go back to their tractors,” he says. A classic example of a rags-to-riches mayor is Julian Munoz, also heavily implicated in the Malaya case, who worked as a waiter before running Marbella Town Hall in 2002. Roca, too, had been on the dole before going on to pilfer 30 million euros. Planning boss Juan Antonio Roca, the main man in the Malaya case Flores compares town hall councillors with more prominent politicians in central government who are less reliant on get-rich-quick methods: “It’s not so difficult to get another job when you’re in a higher political position,” he says. The good news is that most commentators agree that corruption in Spain is on its way out. “The Malaya case was where the mentality changed,” estimates Flores. “It was a turning point for corruption and the Marbella run by thugs completely collapsed when they were all arrested. “As Spain becomes more civilised, we are slowly getting rid of corruption,” he continues. “But it has definitely not gone completely,” argues Rhys Jones. “That will take quite a few more decades.” As for shamed Judge Garzon, opinion remains firmly divided on whether he too was a man who let power corrupt him… or whether he has been silenced by a country whose corruption will be harder to iron out than some may hope. Big cases Malaya Planning chief Juan Antonio Roca is at the heart of this 2.4 billion euro scandal in Marbella. The unelected Roca operated a cash-for-permissions scheme, which saw over 18,000 homes built illegally. Gurtel Businessman Francisco Correa gave money to PP bosses in Valencia in return for lucrative contracts with the regional government. ERE The Junta is being investigated in a 647m euro retirement scandal, where posts were created in non-existent companies in order to defraud public funds. Ballena Blanca One of the largest money laundering cases in Europe, with 21 people accused of investing proceeds from drug trafficking and prostitution in property via over a thousand companies.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Spain's banking sector set to shrink to about 10 lenders

This year, Spain’s banking sector looks set to shrink to about 10 lenders from more than 40 before the economic crisis, as the government forces banks to recognise steep losses from a housing crash. Small and medium-sized banks will scramble to join forces to meet capital requirements implicit in a new law demanding lenders write down up to 80 per cent of the book value of real estate assets on their balance sheets.  Click here for Cloud Computing     Also Read   Related Stories News Now - 24-hr deadline for Kingfisher to submit revised schedule - Kingfisher assures to restore normal schedule in 5-7 days - Indian banks eye assets of European counterparts - It is time to take money off the table: Jim Walker - Swiss solicits tourists from India amidst EU crisis - Abheek Barua & Shivom Chakravarti: Risk-on in a sweet spot Particular focus would rest on the country’s fourth-largest bank by market value, Bankia. Fears persist over its ability to fund losses from its heavy exposure to the property sector. Only a handful of banks — international leaders Santander and BBVA, domestic lender CaixaBank and Basque Country savings bank Kutxa — are considered strong enough to remain independent and cover capital holes with their own profits. Bankia has insisted it does not plan a link-up with Barcelona-based counterpart CaixaBank, but market sources say it would be hard for the bank to go it alone. "It’s true there were overtures towards CaixaBank, but that has gone cold. It seems CaixaBank is the only one interested in Bankia. BBVA and Santander do not seem up for it," said one banking source. Another expressed doubt Bankia could deal alone, with Euro 3 billion of capital needs with annual net operating profits of Euro 1.67 billion and with its parent company BFA still owing Euro 4.1 billion of state loans given out last year. "The numbers simply don’t add up," the second banking source said. If Bankia opts for a tie-up, it could win more time to write down losses related to real estate. The government has given banks one year to write down losses, but would extend it to two years for lenders involved in a merger process.

Foreign and female inmates to be evacuated from Bali's Kerobokan prison


FOREIGN inmates including the 12 Australians held at Bali's notorious Kerobokan jail are set to be moved later today amid fears they could be targeted in ongoing unrest at the prison. Prison guards and police have again been forced to retreat to the streets outside the jail following a second night of unrest in the wake of a rampage by inmates on Tuesday night during which sections of the jail were destroyed by fire. About 400 armed police and soldiers remain stationed outside the jail amid a tense stand-off with prisoners. Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin has also been dispatched from Jakarta and is expected to visit the jail later today. The ongoing tension has prompted authorities to prepare for a mass evacuation of the jail, which has been without electricity since the riot broke out at about 11pm local time (2am AEDT) on Tuesday.  Riots continue in Kerobokan prison Buses have been moved to Kerobokan to prepare for the evacuation, which could take place at about 1pm. It's understood that the 60 foreign prisoners will be taken to a detention facility at Klungkung, a drive of about two hours from Kerobokan. Kerobokan governor Bowo Nariwono has confirmed the plan but said details were still being worked out. ''There's a plan to make them safe,'' Mr Nariwono said. The overcrowded jail houses more than 1000 male and female inmates, including the Gold Coast's Schapelle Corby and members of the so-called Bali Nine drug trafficking group. One of the Australian prisoners, Graeme Michael Pollock, was due to be sentenced today in relation to drugs charges. His hearing has now been postponed. The evacuation plan emerged as authorities voiced concerns for the safety of the foreigners inside the jail after a second night of unrest. Provincial military command spokesman Wing Handoko told AFP that authorities were still working out the details of the evacuation. ''We don't want to take chances, just in case the foreigners become a target of the prisoners' anger,'' he said. Authorities were forced out of the prison again last night after having initially wrested control of the jail back from prisoners earlier in the day. ''The prisoners took over the prison again, which forced security personnel to fire warning shots into the air,'' Mr Handoko said. Prisoners responded to the warning shots by throwing flaming missiles onto the street outside the jail. It is understood that they have demanded that the three prisoners shot in the leg with rubber bullets and removed from the jail yesterday be returned. The prison has been sealed off with about 400 armed police and soldiers, equipped with water cannons, stationed outside. Prisoners began rioting on Tuesday night after days of simmering tensions following the stabbing on Sunday of one prisoner by three inmates from a rival drug gang. Police were called in at about 4pm on Sunday to quell a mob of prisoners that had attacked those believed to be responsible for the stabbing.

Confusion surrounds Australian prisoners held in Bali riot jail


Confusion surrounds Australian prisoners held in Bali riot jail Scott Rush, is escorted by two policemen after being moved out from Kerobokan prison in Denpasar.  BALI nine drug mule Scott Rush was evacuated from the fire-damaged Kerobokan prison late yesterday after a day of confusion and posturing. Prison authorities in Bali backed down from a threat to forcibly move 1015 prisoners from the jail in urban Denpasar, and by late last night had moved a small fraction of that. The fate of the other 11 Australians housed in the prison is unknown, as police were gearing up to move more people out. Last night, drug smugglers Schapelle Corby and the rest of the Bali nine were still inside.

Fraud: Organised crime - Bogus claims gangs cast a wider net


According to the Insurance Fraud Bureau, the cost of organised fraud to the industry is approximately £200m per year. While this is only a small portion of the estimated £1.6bn total cost of fraud, it is of particular concern because it is typically carried out by organised gangs, often using the money to fund serious illegal activity, such as people trafficking, arms dealing and terrorism. Although there are isolated examples of fraud rings operating in arson and disability claims, the vast majority of organised fraud involves motor insurance. It is an unfortunate truth that the criminal gangs instigating this type of fraud are rarely identified by insurers or the police, as they operate ‘behind the scenes’ — persuading others to make personal injury claims on the back of accidents that are either staged or entirely fabricated. Historically, those targeted by gangs to take part in fraud have largely followed a well-defined profile, predominantly males in the 25 to 44 age bracket, living in more deprived postcodes. These individuals also tend to have a history of suspect claims or minor criminality. There is mounting evidence, however, that this is changing, as the gangs behind the scams cast their net wider in search of the ideal claimant. This is borne out by analysis of the thousands of fraud ring cases investigated by Keoghs. Case analysis Analysis of cases handled over the past 12 months shows the number of fraudsters within the 18 to 25 age bracket has increased by 10%, compared with the previous year. Meanwhile, the proportion of fraudsters in the 26 to 30 bracket has fallen by 0.5%. This trend is also starting to be recognised across the industry; in a survey of Keoghs' insurer clients compiled in September, 83% of those noticing a change in the average age of fraud claimants said they had seen a marked decrease in their age. Another trend, more difficult to quantify, but suggested by anecdotal evidence, is that organised fraud is becoming a more middle-class pursuit, with the two groups increasingly involved being students and young professionals. The link between youth unemployment and youth crime rates is well established. In 2004, economist Steven Levitt analysed a wide range of data into the relationship and found that, controlling for other factors, almost every study showed a relationship between non-violent crime and the rate of unemployment. Levitt’s estimate was that a 1% increase in unemployment would cause a 1% increase in crime. In 2005, a study by the government’s Social Exclusion Unit found that nearly two-thirds of young offenders were unemployed at the time of arrest compared to 46% of those aged over 25. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal that youth unemployment is at a 20-year high, with more than one in five — 22.3% of 16 to 24-year-olds — out of work. More than two fifths of those out of work have been unemployed for more than six months. As a result, many are anticipating a sharp increase in the level of crime committed by young people and this appears to be borne out in the increase seen in organised fraud. Strain on finances There is also a suggestion that issues such as a rise in tuition fees for higher education and lack of availability of affordable housing is putting such a strain on young people in jobs and full-time education that many are now willing to take the risk of committing fraud to survive. In many cases, this is a last resort unlikely to be taken under normal economic circumstances, but which is now being used as an opportunity by the criminal gangs who recruit fraudsters. To make significant amounts of money from fraud, the criminals need to recruit willing volunteers to file bogus claims in exchange for a share of the pay-out. The most common scenario — that used by Mohammed Patel, the fraudster jailed in 2009 for causing 93 crashes — is for a fraudster to use a contact’s car, with their permission, to stage a collision on the road, following which the owner of the car can make a large claim for personal injuries. However, as insurers’ risk and fraud managers have increasingly grown wise to this and subjected claims from the most commonly affected postcodes to increased scrutiny, the gangs have shifted their recruitment strategies. There have been a number of cases of active recruitment of fraudsters in universities – with those taking part often studying for high-earning professions such as law or medicine, and coming from stable, middle-class backgrounds. In one case currently under investigation, the ringleader at the centre of the scam was a student who had crashed the cars of a number of fellow students in order for them to benefit from the pay-outs. So, what can insurers do to stop these practices? Rapid shifts In the face of such rapid shifts in the demographics of those involved in fraud rings — and the state of the economy driving people to turn to desperate measures and commit fraud for the first time — it is clear that concentrating on those with a history of suspect claims will not prove an effective deterrent. What is needed are all-encompassing fraud detection tools and techniques, based on a joined-up approach to sharing detailed information both internally in organisations and between insurers. Ideally, as soon as a potential fraud ring is uncovered, investigators should be able to cross-reference the details of the claims involved with all other relevant cases across the industry as a whole in order to identify and investigate any links. Investment in analytical techniques and technology, coupled with an open approach to sharing data on suspected fraud rings, is essential if the industry is to stand any chance of identifying and bringing to justice those at the heart of the problem.

Juan Antonio Roca has face to face showdown in court with Marisol Yagüe

A face to face declaration in the Malaya case in Málaga on Wednesday brought sparks between the ex Marbella Town Hall real estate assessor, Juan Antonio Roca, and the ex Mayor of Marbella, Marisol Yagüe. Roca said to Yagüe – ‘Darling, I deeply lament disagreeing, but I did give you money’. To that Yagüe said ‘You are looking for a way out of jail’. The conversation between the two came after she denied to the prosecutor that she had received envelopes, in the form of backhanders, from Roca. Judge José Godino then ordered a face to face ‘careo’ between the two which lasted just over a minute. ‘When did I ask you for money, Juan Antonio?’ she spat ‘I paid you always on the orders of Jesús Gil’, he replied, adding that the payment was for ‘maintaining cohesion’ in the three way government of which she was Mayor. The payments to Yagüe and the rest of the councillors took place between January 2004 and 2006, according to Roca’s own notes, which he has collaborated repeatedly in court. He says the ex Mayor received 1.8 million €. Yagüe told the court that Roca knows she loves him a lot, and that she wants him to get out of jail, ‘but it is not as he says’, she said, looking directly into his eye and grabbing his forearm. She also denied that he had supplied funds for the purchase of a luxury flat in Madrid in the Argüelles district. She faces 20 years in prison and a 3.8 million € fine in the case on charge of bribery, perversion of the course of justice, fraud and the misuse of public funds. The questioning continues on March 5.

Libyan land being freed for development in Marbella


A large real estate project which the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank wanted to place in Marbella is back on the road. The project was frozen because of the death of Muamar El Gaddafi, but now the lawyers for the development say it is active again. The lawyer Ignacio Pérez de Vargas said the plans are for 1,915 homes, a golf course and a congress hall to be built in La Resinera, the finca owned by the Libyan in Benahavís which stretches to 6,900 hectares across the municipalities of Benahavis, Estepona, Pujerra and Júzcar. Part of this is in the Sierra de las Nieves, declared a Biosphere Reserve, but the PGOU urban plans shows 500 hectares which can be built on in Benahavís. Construction could start as early as December. The Spanish Government blocked all the assets owned by the Libyan Government in Spain, or related to Gadaffi, when the fighting started in Libya. There is another plot in Nerja also owned, as nearly all the Libyan assets, by the Libyan Foreign Bank. Now the politicians and ambassadors of the two countries have been talking, and the Libyan Ambassador commented ‘Soon we will know what is going to happen to our properties in Spain. We have asked for meetings to find out what we can do with them. Now we will try to complete the arrangements so the projects we initially had in mind can go ahead.

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Ex Marbella Mayor, Isabel García Marcos, found guilty of corruption


The ex Mayor of Marbella, Isabel García Marcos, has been handed down her first conviction for real estate corruption. Penal Court 10 in Málaga fined her 3,600 € and banned her from holding public office for ten years. Three other ex councillors were given the same sentence, José Jaén and Carmen Revilla among them, and another 11 ex-councillors were given a year’s prison sentence and a ten year ban. These include Julián Muñoz, Rafael González and Marisa Alcalá. José Luis Fernández Garrosa, Alberto García Muñoz and Pedro Reñones were all given nine month prison sentences and a nine month ban from office. The case relates to April 2002 and a licence for the construction of 20 luxury villas on a plot of land in Trapiche.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Zumba Fitness is the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music


Zumba Fitness is the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music, created by Grammy Award-winning producers, and contagious steps to form a "fitness-party" that is downright addictive. Since its inception in 2001, the Zumba program has grown to become the world's largest – and most successful – dance-fitness program with more than 12 million people of all shapes, sizes and ages taking weekly Zumba classes in over 110,000 locations across more than 125 countries.

Zumba's Latin rhythms on the move in the fitness world


On a rooftop parking lot, with temperatures in the chilly low 50s, a crowd of all ages shimmied and shook, sweated and smiled as DJ Francis played an eclectic mix of dance music. But this wasn't just another wild South Florida party. It was a special Zumba class for charity, led last month by the creator of the global craze, Alberto "Beto" Perez. The charismatic Colombian in cargo pants — who has become a rock star in the fitness world — climbed onto the roof of a Chevy minivan that doubled as a stage. He demonstrated salsa steps, the merengue march and many other Latin-inspired dance moves — all while also cuing the drummer and the bongo player. For an hour, 75 of his adoring fans — and even the minivan — moved to the beat. "Everybody loves it; everybody has fun," Perez said while posing for pictures with his Zumba faithful, some of whom had traveled from as far as Canada. Two days later, Perez flew to New York to appear on the TV morning show "Live! with Kelly." "You must be so rich by now," host Kelly Ripa gushed to Perez, 41. Perez's Zumba classes, with the motto "Ditch the Workout, Join the Party," were strictly a South Florida phenomenon 10 years ago. Today, Zumba Fitness has become the largest branded fitness program in the world, with about 12 million people taking Zumba classes weekly at 110,000 locations in at least 125 countries, according to company spokeswoman Allison Robins. The private company won't reveal information about the company's finances or its net worth. But at a time when most of the world is struggling economically, Zumba Fitness' empire appears to be flourishing. It is doing so on the strength of a growing army of certified instructors who spread the Zumba gospel to such distant outposts as Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Nepal and even Afghanistan — at the Kabul Community Center. Many fitness crazes have come and gone. Staying power is tough in the ever-evolving fitness industry. John Figarelli, founder of the National Fitness Hall of Fame Museum and author of "The History of Fitness: Fads, Gimmicks and Gadgets," said: "I think the owners of Zumba did a great job of getting it going from a business standpoint." Zumba Fitness does not charge gyms to carry its classes. Instead, it trains instructors and gives them the license and use of the trademark if they join the Zumba Instructor Network. "We're helping the instructors to become entrepreneurs and make a living out of it," said company co-founder Alberto Aghion. Exercise as a business It's a sound strategy, said Figarelli, whose book covers 100 years of working out, from 1900 to 2000. "Most group-exercise instructors will just go with the next popular class. But if Zumba is your business, instructors will stay with that." Ensuring instructors are successful has become the company's main mission. "We have three people who all they do is call up gyms all day and try to find instructors employment," said company co-founder Alberto Perlman. The company has made Zumba instructors easy to find, with a worldwide listing that includes all of their network instructors' classes regularly updated on the company's website. Instructors also receive new music and choreography about every two months. The music department now creates music just for Zumba classes, with original songs that include "Zumbalicious," "Que Te Mueve" and "Caipirinha," which was a No. 1 song in Israel. Zumba Fitness makes its money on its instructors academy, instructors courses, monthly fees from instructors in its network and on all its brand merchandise. The company has built its own line of hip, colorful clothing and footwear, workout DVDs, two video games, original music and a lifestyle magazine, Z-Life. This was not the business model when Zumba Fitness was founded in Aventura, Fla., in 2001 by the "three Albertos" — creator Perez and boyhood friends Perlman and Aghion, both entrepreneurs in their mid-20s and natives of Colombia. The trio's original plan was simple: produce VHS workout tapes of Perez's popular South Florida classes to sell around the country on infomercials. An inspired ad-lib Perez fell in love with dancing at age 7 by watching a VHS tape of the 1978 movie "Grease," starring John Travolta. At age 16, he was teaching aerobics classes for $1 an hour. One day, he forgot his prepared music. All he had in his backpack was a cassette tape of merengue and salsa music he'd recorded off the radio. His morning class was full of moms who had dropped their kids off at school. "I can't say, 'Hey sorry, I forgot my music,' " Perez said. "I say to the people, 'I have a new class I prepared for a long time.' It was not true. I improvised for one hour." The moms loved the dancing exercise. Perez turned it into a regular class in Cali. He soon moved to the Colombian capital of Bogotá, where he continued those classes and became a choreographer for Sony Music and Shakira. In 1999, Perez came to the United States for the first time. He pounded the pavement on South Beach, going from gym to gym. Nobody was interested in this new dance exercise class by a guy who couldn't speak English. On his fourth trip to Miami he landed a job at the swanky Williams Island Spa in a development where several Colombians lived. Some had even taken classes with him in Bogotá. Within a year, Perez was in demand, teaching 22 classes all over South Florida. At the same time, Perlman and Aghion were looking for a new business venture after the dot-com bubble burst, bringing down their Internet company, Spydre Labs, an incubator for Internet startups related to Latin America. Enter Raquel Perlman. While Alberto Perlman was telling his mom about how badly he was feeling for laying off people, she was telling him about how happy she was taking Perez's classes, where were then called Rumbacize. "You should meet Beto and maybe start a gym together," she told her son. "He's the talk of Aventura." Perlman watched a class and was reminded of people having fun at a nightclub, but without the drinking and pickup lines. "Beto, have you heard of Billy Blanks' Tae Bo? Why don't we do VHS tapes and sell them on television?" Perlman said he told Perez. In August 2001, they and Aghion founded Zumba Fitness. To create a demonstration video to show investors, the three stayed up all night laying down boards to create a dance floor on the beach outside a Sunny Isles hotel. About 200 of Perez's students paid $20 each for the class, raising an additional $4,000. When the infomercial began running on TV, people rang the call center in Ohio to buy the videos, and a few also asked how to become Zumba instructors. Those callers were forwarded to Zumba's office — at Aghion's home. After a few 2 a.m. wakeups, Aghion realized this was another business opportunity. Zumba Fitness also has greatly benefited from Internet advertising and social media. Many people discovered Zumba via YouTube videos. Zumba Fitness started a Facebook page about a year ago and now has more than 3 million fans. Zumba is mentioned every 11 seconds in social-media platforms, Robins said. It's not clear yet if Zumba will have a long shelf life or be added to the long list of exercise fads, said Walter R. Thompson, professor of exercise science at Georgia State University. He'll watch to see how it fares over the next few years in a worldwide survey that ranks fitness trends. "I hope it stays around," he said. "It's motivating a lot of people to exercise."

Morocco yoga courses: Stretching out on a yogic break in soothing Berber country

Dust clouds sway like ghosts dancing to an inaudible tune across miles of Moroccan dessert. I’m only 15 minutes south of Marrakech, but the soil’s already darkened to a deep, blood-clot red that clashes violently with the cobalt sky above. Spindly Argan trees feature goats that have clambered into the branches and nibble on the fruit (yes, really), a snapshot of surreal comedy against nature’s stark, beautiful reality. It’s my first up-close and personal foray into Morocco’s rural centre, despite having fallen head over heels for mad old Marrakech eight years beforehand. Rustic retreat: Lalla Abouch offers yoga courses set in the beautiful Moroccan countryside There’s something intoxicating about the swirling, jasmine-soaked souks, the thrill of losing yourself in the medina only to wind up on a rooftop drinking pomegranate martinis hours later. I’ve returned several times since to enjoy the city’s myriad hidden bars, supper clubs and late night lounges. But this time I want a different kind of escapism, one that’s less hedonism, more health. 'We’ve the perfect place', Rosena, the Irish founder of Moroccan concierge experts Boutique Souk, assures me before arranging a car to drive me the three-hour journey south into Morocco’s Berber country. Thirty miles south of the colonial port city of Essaouira, our jeep turns inland, swerves sharply at a junction and turns up an invisible, potholed dirt road through fields of carefully irrigated vegetable patches and chicken coops. A donkey brays ‘hello’ as I clamber out, the only contender to shatter the silent calm of our weekend lodgings. Named Lalla Abouch after ‘Lady Argan‘ and Morocco’s famous Argan tree, the guesthouse embodies what many ‘boutique’ lodgings strive for yet often fail to achieve. Chic and rustic, it proffers the perfect balance between comfort and style – the home from home I’ll never replicate no matter how many Elle Decoration subscriptions I sign up for. Taking the plunge: The refreshing pool is lined with plants and a traditional stone wall Beaming Lucreiza, the Italian who runs this hideaway, gives me a tour of the farm’s intimate selection of cosy rooms, all located around a bougainvillea-splashed courtyard, before ushering me onto the farm’s charming alfresco terrace for fresh mint and ginger tea. Terracotta pots trickle fresh water into a plunge pool overlooking acres of lovingly tended vegetable patches, whilst wild tortoises sunbathe lazily in the afternoon rays as kitchen hands gingerly navigate them whilst plucking robust courgettes for the evening meal. Food is a big draw at Lalla Abouch - so don’t go thinking this is yoga with all the normal detox-wheatgrass-deprivation tags. Lunch, though simple, is lip-smackingly good: home-plucked bitter leaves; creamy local goats cheese; cumin-crusted courgettes, caramelised carrots; a fuchsia pink beetroot dip; wholegrain couscous studded with ruby pomegranate seeds. Each bite radiates with energy and (forgive the hippy hyperbole) is offered up with love. Lucreiza beams as I eat. 'We like to give an alkaline, vegetarian diet during the retreats', she explains. 'It’s a good for body cleaning and rejuvenation.' I come away from the meal feeling more satiated than many of my finest dining experiences back in the UK. Unusual sights: Goats love to climb the Argan trees, while Lalla Abouch has plenty of quiet corners for relaxing Besides intensive, twice daily yoga and meditation sessions lasting two hours a go, Lalla Abouch offers a real (and rare) opportunity to totally unplug from daily life. As Lucreiza concedes, 'the natural elements are deep and strong', so the entire operation of the farm and its retreats has been designed to really embrace the local surrounds – and the produce found within it. Better still, my experience isn’t marred by the constant checking of Blackberry’s or broadband; connectivity here is slim to none. Sure, it’s a little disconcerting at first, but after several hours our entire party agrees we’re happy for the forced technology amnesty. With no one to tweet or CC, I instead sink into an indulgent afternoon of reading in the farm’s huge hammock, slung beneath the boughs of the Argan tree. I doze, stirring only when the attention seeking donkey’s comical eey-awww or Lucreiza’s quiet, smiling kitchen hands water the fragrant herb garden. I’ve done no yoga yet, but I can already see why Moroccan specialists Boutique Souk thought they’d 'struck gold' when stumbling upon the farm.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

'Kinky' nuns and tattooed Christs spark controversy for Spanish gallery


Catholics and conservatives have denounced as blasphemous two recent exhibitions in Madrid featuring kinky nuns in lingerie and tattooed and near-naked Christs, demonstrating outside one gallery. Catholic group AES called a demonstration for Friday evening outside the Fresh Gallery in Madrid against its latest exhibition: "Obscenity", a collection of photographs by Canadian artist Bruce LaBruce. The 50 pictures on display include a portrait of Spanish actress Rossy de Palma in a black and white habit and see-through corset with a rosary between her teeth. One shows a well-known singer, Alaska, dressed as a sexy saint with a communion wafer on her tongue, while in another she hugs a tattooed Christ to her breast in a kinky tribute to Michaelangelo's Pieta sculpture. Around 50 protesters demonstrated outside the Fresh gallery Friday evening bearing placards reading "For a unified and Catholic Spain" and "God Exists". LaBruce himself was unrepentant. "How can fascists attempt to assert any sort of moral authority over anything?" he said. LaBruce, 48, whose work has often sparked protests and censorship, wrote on the gallery's website that "the lives of the saints are full of ecstatic acts of sublimated sexuality."

Spanish duke to be questioned by judge in embarrassing first for Madrid's royal family


Spain's royal family has long enjoyed a level of privacy and respect that the Windsors could only dream of. But, in an uncomfortable first for the Madrid monarchy, one of their number will face questioning from a judge this week in a scandal which has rocked the royal family and raised questions over the future of the monarchy. Inaki Urdangarin, the son-in-law of King Juan Carlos, is preparing for a court appearance in which he will defend himself in a widening embezzlement scandal. Hearings into the case began last weekend at a court in Palma on the Balearic island of Majorca and will culminate on Saturday with the long anticipated appearance of the Duke of Palma, who received the title when he married Cristina, the King's youngest daughter, in 1997. The Duke, 44, a former professional handball player who won Olympic medals for Spain in the sport, was formally made a suspect in the wide-ranging fraud case that alleges the embezzlement of millions of euros of government funds through a non-profit organization he co-directed between 2004 and 2006. Investigators claim to have discovered a "black hole" in the accounts of the Noos Institute, which organised sporting and tourism events for the regional governments of the Balearic Islands and Valencia.

Morocco bans Spain’s El Pais newspaper over royal cartoon


Morocco has banned the distribution of Thursday’s edition of Spain’s influential El Pais, as a cartoon published by the newspaper allegedly tarnished King Mohammed VI’s name, an official said. “The decision to ban (the paper) was made on the basis of article 29 of the press code” that protects the monarch, the senior communication ministry official told AFP on Saturday. “The caricature contains a deliberate intention to smear the (king’s) image to harm the king personally,” he added. The cartoon, which was picked up by a Moroccan website, accompanied an article by Spanish journalist Ignacio Cembrero, who knows Morocco well. Contacted by AFP, Cembrero said the Moroccan reaction surprised him as the small cartoon was “friendly and rather likeable”. It seemed to be the first time that a foreign publication was banned for the stated reasons since the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) came to power in Morocco in January, he added. So far Morocco has only banned weeklies that carried images of the Prophet Mohammed, or of God, which is forbidden under Muslim tradition. Earlier this month French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur fell into that category after printing an image of God. And last month the magazine was banned when a cover story on the Arab world included the supposed face of the Prophet Mohammed. Morocco also banned French weekly l’Express in January for publishing a 95-page dossier on Islam including a face meant to represent Mohammed’s.

British man killed and 24 injured after coach crash during half-term skiing holiday


British man was killed and 24 others were injured when a coach carrying school pupils home from a half-term skiing trip careered off a motorway in northern France today. At least four teenagers are in a serious condition following the accident on the A26 road, near Chalons-en-Champagne, in the Ardennes region. The dead man's name has not been released. He was 61 years old.


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