Monday, December 6, 2010

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Wild weather, bailout blues and pine crime

The wild winter weather is not confined to the northern half of Europe. Snow drifts are blocking many roads and isolated villages in Portugal. About 40,000 people were left without electricity yesterday because of thunderstorms, high winds and torrential rain. Civil protection workers were out dealing with landslides, fallen trees and flooded houses in the centre and north of the country. Lisbon and the Alentejo were also hit. Warnings have been issued about rough seas along the Algarve's southern and western coasts. Appalling weather conditions wreaked havoc at the weekend in Madeira and the Azores.

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The Guardian newspaper has reported that it is now virtually taken for granted in Brussels that Portugal will need a bailout. The paper said it has been told by two EU ambassadors that Portugal would need to be rescued “very soon,” despite repeated public statements to the contrary. "Portugal will need to be saved. The big issue is Spain," said another senior diplomat. The Reuters news agency is reporting this morning that euro zone finance ministers meeting today will be under pressure to increase the size of a 750 billion euro safety net for countries such as Portugal and Spain in order to halt contagion.

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Police have arrested more than 35 people and seized more than 50 tonnes of stolen pine cones in a month-long operation in the district of Santarém. Police say that pine cone thieves are usually agile, unemployed and with previous convictions for theft. Much of the thieving goes on up high in the trees in the dead of night. Legitimate pine nut collection and sales is a multi-million euro business in Portugal. Producers reckon that 15% to 20% of their crop is stolen each year.

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