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Spanish report Spanish report
by Euro Reporter
2012-02-02 09:09:08
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Economy shrinks

Spain’s economy shrank in the fourth quarter, pushing the country toward its second recession since 2009 and undermining government efforts to narrow the budget deficit. Gross domestic product fell 0.3 percent in the last three months of 2011 and rose 0.3 percent from a year earlier, the National Statistics Institute said in an e-mailed statement today in Madrid. The figures match the estimate published on Jan. 23 by the Bank of Spain.

The People’s Party government, in power since December, is trying to convince investors it can reduce the deficit by almost half this year even as the recession weighs on revenue and employment. The economy may shrink 1.5 percent, pushing the jobless rate to 23.4 percent if the government meets its austerity goals “strictly,” the Bank of Spain said last week.

“Deteriorating growth is credit-negative as it further complicates the government’s challenge of significantly reducing the fiscal deficit,” Kathrin Muehlbronner, a senior analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, said in a report today. “It will be very difficult for Spain to reach this year’s deficit target given the outlook for revenue growth.” Fitch Ratings also cited the “deterioration in the macroeconomic outlook” when it cut Spain’s credit rating two levels to A on Jan. 27. The company, which also cut Italy and three other euro nations, said Spain will miss its deficit target this year and unemployment will remain “very high.”


Historic testimony on civil war crimes

With a voice so faint and hoarse it sounded like a whisper, an elderly Spanish woman dressed in black gave Spain's court system on Wednesday its first oral account of right-wing atrocities committed during the country's civil war. The historic testimony from 81-year-old Maria Martin came at the trial of Spain's most prominent judge, Baltasar Garzon, who is facing criminal charges for having opened a probe into such crimes during and after Spain's 1936-1939 civil war. The civil war and its ruinous aftermath of hunger and disease left an estimated 500,000 people dead, and accounts abound of atrocities that both sides committed during the conflict as Gen. Francisco Franco's right-wing forces overthrew a leftist Republican government and established a dictatorship.

The Franco regime carried out a thorough accounting of civilians killed by Republican troops or militia. But since Franco died in 1975 and democracy was restored three years later, no official government probe has been conducted of atrocities by his supporters, until Garzon launched one in 2008. Those crimes involve the deaths or disappearances of more than 100,000 people. Garzon, 56, has been accused by two right-wing groups of knowingly overstepping his jurisdiction, a charge that could effectively end his stellar judicial career. Martin used a walker Wednesday to slowly make her way into the ornate chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court and take her place on a red velvet chair facing a panel of seven judges to testify in defence of Garzon. A young clerk helped Martin work the microphone as she told the court how at age six, in September 1936, troops loyal to Franco rolled into her village in central Spain and took away 30 people -- 27 men and three women, including her mother Agustina.

"They took out of the house and took her away," Martin said, her voice barely audible, her white hair pulled back in a bun. She later showed reporters photocopies of old pictures of her family and small dog-eared notebook with a hand-drawn map of where she thinks the mass grave holding her mother's remains might be. Her father Mariano was not in the village at the time, she said, although it was not immediately clear why. She said when her father eventually went to ask about recovering the mother's body, he was threatened. "'Watch out, or we might do with you what we did with her,'" Martin said her father was told. Now, however, the Spanish judge who became famous around the world for probing crimes against humanity in other countries and seeking to put those perpetrators on trial in Spain is himself on trial for that investigation. The main argument against him is that wartime atrocities were covered by an amnesty passed in 1977 as Spain tried to rebuild and put a dark chapter of its past behind. Until now, no Spanish court had ever heard testimony from people who lost civilian loved ones to the pro-Franco forces who carried out summary executions and other such crimes, according to an official from the Supreme Court, the tribunal trying Garzon.


Prado Museum reports early copy of ‘Mona Lisa,’ done in da Vinci studio

Spain’s Prado Museum said Wednesday it has a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” that one of his students painted in the studio where the masterpiece was completed. A museum spokeswoman said the copy was done alongside the 16th-century original, which now hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, apparently making it the earliest replica of the work ever found. The Prado said it didn’t realize the significance of its copy of the “Mona Lisa” until a recent restoration revealed hidden layers. There are dozens of the surviving replicas of the masterpiece from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Madrid version shows the same woman figure, but prior to the restoration it lacked the landscape background and was covered with paint and varnish. The spokeswoman said the painting had once been on display in the museum but had always been considered a pretty poor copy. She was speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with museum policy. Museum director Miguel Zugaza was presenting the work at a news conference later Wednesday. El Pais newspaper said the Louvre supports the Prado’s new evaluation of the painting. Calling the painting ‘Mona Lisa’s twin,’ El Mundo newspaper cited museum officials as saying the Prado copy was better preserved in several areas than the original and would help with studies of the masterpiece.

The replica was restored as part of plans for it to be included in a Louvre exhibition on Leonardo later this year. The Prado plans to put it on display later this month before it travels to France.

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