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BARCELONA, August 12, 2018 (News Wires) - Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has confirmed he will not play again for the Spanish national team despite his former Barca coach Luis Enrique being appointed as coach.

Pique declared his intention to quit international football after the 2018 World Cup following a World Cup qualifier against Albania in October 2016, saying he was tired of repeated criticism from supporters and the media, and that he wished “to be left in peace”.

The outspoken Barcelona-born defender has never enjoyed the same rapport with Spain supporters as his international team mates, and he has often been booed at games due to his repeated jibes at Real Madrid and his support for a referendum on Catalan independence.

Pique, 31, did not confirm his departure immediately after Spain were eliminated by hosts Russia in the last 16 of the World Cup, but he said he had already told Luis Enrique — who succeeded Julen Lopetegui last month as national team coach — that he would not be returning to the set-up.

“I spoke to Luis Enrique a few days ago. He called me and I told him the decision was taken a long time ago and that I had thought about it carefully,” the defender told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s Spanish Super Cup game against Sevilla.

“It was a beautiful time with the national team in which I had the chance to win the World Cup and the European Championship. Now I want to focus on Barca,” he said. “I have a few years left here and I’m going to enjoy them a lot.”

Pique played 102 times for Spain and represented his country at two European Championships and three World Cups, helping his country win their only world crown in 2010 and triumphing at Euro 2012 two years later.

 

ALGECIRAS, Spain, August 9, 2018 (AP) — A rescue boat carrying 87 African migrants who were saved in the Mediterranean Sea docked on Thursday at the southern Spanish port of Algeciras, but without the welcome offered to previous groups as the political mood in Spain began showing signs of tension about a spike in migrant arrivals.

The boat operated by Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms brought what it said were mostly Sudanese war refugees, including 12 minors, picked up off the Libyan coast on August 2.

Spain allowed the boat to come after other, geographically closer, European Union countries refused to let it dock amid continuing tension among EU governments about how best to respond to the wave of migrants crossing from Africa.

Spain's new centre-left Socialist government made fair treatment for migrants one of its headline policies after coming to power two months ago.

In June, it announced measures to "put people's rights first" in the country's migration policies. Among other things, it took the first steps towards extending public healthcare to foreigners without residence permits.

That same month, it accepted the Aquarius rescue ship with 630 migrants on board after Malta and Italy turned it away.

Authorities gave those migrants who arrived in Valencia a special entry permit into Spain of 45 days for humanitarian reasons. A further 60 who arrived on a rescue ship in Barcelona last month were given a 30-day permit while they decided what to do. Their paperwork was also fast-tracked.

But those who arrived in Algeciras on Thursday will get no such special treatment.

They will be processed, the government said, like any other migrants rescued at sea: held by police for 72 hours at a migrant camp, given a medical check-up, identified and detained while they await asylum or are given an expulsion order.

The government official overseeing immigration, Magdalena Valerio, said earlier this week there would be no extra money for migrant policies before the end of the year.

The Spanish Network for Immigration and Refugee Help, a non-governmental organisation, accused the government of abruptly "changing course" in its immigration policies and "discriminating" against the new arrivals.

"We'd like Spain to remain a safe haven and be a bulwark against the populism of (Italian Interior Minister Matteo) Salvini and (French far-right nationalist leader Marine) Le Pen," the organisation's president, Daniel Mendez, told Spanish news agency Europa Press.

Critics of the new government's perceived softer approach towards migrants said its policies had backfired, by attracting ever higher numbers, and the government is increasingly wary of that criticism.

The UN Migration Agency says almost 24,000 refugees and other migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year — nearly three times the number last year.

The agency says Spain has become the most popular European destination for Mediterranean migrants, with just over 40 per cent of the total, after Libya and Italy began cracking down. Most come on overcrowded smugglers' boats from Tunisia and Morocco.

Opposition leader Pablo Casado has targeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's immigration policies.

"What Spaniards are looking for is a party which says clearly that we can't give documents to everyone, and Spain can't take in millions of Africans," Casado said last month.

Such criticism has left Sanchez politically exposed when he heads a minority government with just 84 of the 350 seats in the lower house of parliament.

It has also fueled fears that populism may spread further in the EU. Far-right parties have joined the governments in Italy and Austria and made gains elsewhere.

LISBON, Portugal, August 7, 2018 (News Wires) - More than 1,200 firefighters supported by 19 aircraft battled a major wildfire in southern Portugal for a fifth straight day Tuesday, as firefighters questioned the wisdom of the strategy to counter the flames.

Authorities had hoped lower overnight temperatures would allow services to finally contain the blaze, which was 95 percent under control on Monday.

But officials blamed its continuing spread on strong, gusting winds fueling the flames, which are racing through dry and largely inaccessible woodland.

The fire came within 500 meters of the fire department in Monchique, a town of 2,000 people about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Lisbon, as officials evacuated scores of houses.

Emergency services say 29 people have been hurt in the wildfire.

An unknown number of homes - believed to number in the dozens, according to local reports - located in the forested hills have burned down.

The firefighting effort drew criticism, with some claiming poor organization is thwarting the operation. Monchique was identified as a high risk area months ago.

Firefighting is coordinated by the Civil Protection Agency, a government body overseen by the Ministry for the Interior, which oversees national defense.

The National Association of Professional Firemen and the Professional Firemen's Trade Union issued a joint statement saying that the government's recent reorganization of firefighting capabilities need to be reassessed and rethought. The organizations asked for a "very urgent" meeting with the Minister of the Interior.

The minister, Eduardo Cabrita, told reporters authorities were switching coordination of the Monchique fire from the local Civil Protection Agency to the department's national operational command in Lisbon.

He declined to criticize the firefighting operation, saying the effort had been "notable."

Portugal beefed up its wildfire response over the winter after 109 people died last year in forest blazes amid a severe drought.

Vitor Vaz Pinto, the Civil Protection Agency's district commander, said the weather forecast around Monchique was "unfavorable," with a gusting wind from the north, known as a "nortada."

Temperatures were forecast to reach 35 C (95 F) - normal for August in southern Portugal.

The Iberian peninsula endured some record heat last weekend, with temperatures exceeding 45 C (113 F), which parched large areas.

Spanish emergency services were fighting Tuesday a wildfire near Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, with almost two dozen aircraft.

MADRID, August 5, 2018 (News Wires) - Almost 400 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean this weekend as they attempted to make the crossing from Morocco to Spain, Spanish rescue services said.

While the overall numbers of migrants reaching Europe by sea is down from the peak in 2015, Spain has witnessed a steady increase in sea arrivals that began more than a year ago and has surged in recent months.

Through Saturday, 395 people were rescued from nine boats in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea, the two principal sea crossings to Spain, the Spanish coastguard said on Twitter. Two more people were rescued from a small boat on Sunday, it said.

Spain, which for the first time in years has overtaken Italy as the preferred destination for refugees, has registered almost 21,000 migrants so far this year, almost more than in the whole of last year, according to figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration.

The mortality rate for the crossing from Morocco is around one in 70, IOM said, lower than that between Libya and Italy, which is one in 19.

BARCELONA, July 31, 2018 (News Wires) - Newcastle United offered the Spain national team the chance to have Rafael Benitez as their coach during the 2018 World Cup after Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament, Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales has said.

Former sporting director Fernando Hierro was named as Spain's interim coach several hours after Lopetegui was sacked one day before the World Cup began, with the 2010 winners later suffering a shock exit to hosts Russia in the last 16.

"When I sacked Julen I immediately called Hierro and told him I didn't want to make any changes. Two days later a letter arrived from Newcastle saying 'Are you interested in our coach? He's at your disposition.' We said thanks but no," Rubiales told Spanish radio station Cadena COPE on Tuesday.

"We would have never done that, we couldn't hire Benitez because it would have been acting in the same way for which we reproached Julen."

Lopetegui was sacked for announcing he had agreed to take over Real Madrid immediately after the World Cup without the consent of Rubiales.

Newcastle did not immediately respond to a request to comment from Reuters.

Benitez mentioned the possibility of coaching Spain during the World Cup earlier this month, telling reporters at Newcastle's training camp in Dublin: "There was maybe a chance, but still I am here and I am happy to be here."

Luis Enrique was appointed as Spain's coach earlier this month.

Rubiales has been criticised in certain sections of the Spanish media for taking a seismic decision which threw Spain's World Cup preparations into chaos after an impressive qualifying campaign.

The federation president, however, said that he had received sympathy from former US Barack Obama.

"I had a conversation with Obama and he mentioned the sacking of Lopetegui," added Rubiales, who met the former head of state at a conference in Madrid in July.

"He told me that when you do not act you get criticised less but sometimes you have to act, and he had taken similar decisions to the one we took with Lopetegui."

MADRID, July 29, 2018 (News Wires) — Spain’s maritime rescue service says it has saved 123 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa.

The service says it pulled the migrants from 12 different boats intercepted by rescue craft Sunday morning in the Strait of Gibraltar.

The latest arrivals come after Spain rescued nearly 1,000 people attempting the perilous journey from African to European shores on Friday and Saturday.

Spain has received over 20,000 migrants by sea in 2018. A crackdown by Libyan authorities and Italy’s refusal to let rescue boats dock has made it more difficult for migrants to reach Italy.

Human trafficking mafias pack the migrants into small craft unfit for open waters. Over 1,500 people have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

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