Thousands march to save Madrid Central anti-pollution plan

Thousands marched through Madrid on Saturday to ask the Spanish capital's new mayor not to ditch ambitious traffic restrictions in the centre only recently set up to improve air quality.

Thousands march to save Madrid Central anti-pollution plan
File photo: AFP

“Madrid Central,” as it is called, was one of the measures that persuaded the European Commission not to take Spain to court last year over its bad air pollution in the capital and Barcelona, like it did with France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Fewer cars, better air”, or “the new city hall seriously harms your health”, banners read as protesters walked through the centre in 40-degree-Celsius heat as a major heatwave hits Europe.

The capital's new conservative mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida made ditching “Madrid Central” a priority during his campaign, saying it had done nothing to ease pollution and only caused a nuisance for locals.

But since he has taken power as part of a coalition with centre-right party Ciudadanos, the city hall has toned this down, saying it is merely seeking to reform a system that does not work properly, mistakenly handing out some fines.

When the system was launched in November, Madrid followed in the steps of other European cities such as London, Stockholm or Milan that have restricted traffic in their centres.

But while in these cases drivers can pay to enter such zones, Madrid went a step further, banning many vehicles from accessing the centre altogether and fining them if they did.

These fines will be suspended from July 1st to the end of September as the new city hall team audits the system.

For Beatriz Navarro, a 44-year-old university biochemistry professor who took part in the march, the system is working fine.

“It's a small seed… among everything that has to be done to slow down climate change,” she said.

In a statement, environmental group Ecologistas en Accion said “the levels of pollution from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) registered during May this year were lower than those of 2018 in all the (measuring) stations in the system.”

“In 14 of the 24 stations (in Madrid), the value registered in May 2019 was the lowest in the last 10 years.”

READ ALSO: Madrid Central: Five reasons why scrapping anti-pollution traffic scheme is 'absurd'

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Madrid police end escaped camels’ night on the town

Eight camels and a llama took to the streets of Madrid overnight after escaping from a nearby circus, Spanish police said on Friday.

A camel in a zoo
A file photo of a camel in a zoo. Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP

It was not immediately clear how the long-legged runaways managed to get out but Quiros Circus, which owns them, blamed sabotage by animal rights activists.

They were spotted at around 5:00 am wandering around the southern district of Carabranchel close to where the circus is currently based.

“Various camels and a llama escaped from a circus in Madrid overnight,” Spain’s national police wrote on Twitter, sharing images of eight two-humped camels and a llama hanging around a street corner.

“Police found them and took care of them so they could be taken back safe and sound,” they tweeted.

There was no word on whether the rogue revellers, who are known for spitting, put up any resistance when the police moved in to detain them.

Mati Munoz, one of the circus’ managers, expressed relief the furry fugitives — Bactrian camels who have two humps and thick shaggy coats – had been safely caught.

“Nothing happened, thank God,” he told AFP, saying the circus had filed a complaint after discovering the electric fence around the animals’ enclosure had been cut.

“We think (their escape) was due to an act of sabotage by animal rights groups who protest every year.”

Bactrian camels (camelus bactrianus) come from the rocky deserts of central and eastern Asia and have an extraordinary ability to survive in extreme conditions.

These days, the vast majority of them are domesticated.