Spain puts off burning all of its 'bridges'

Spain has put off a promised reduction of its number of pubic holidays and a rewriting of the work calendar because of objections from interested parties such as the Roman Catholic Church and unions
MADRID -- As Spain's economy sputters, the 2013 calendar is helping the country do what its politicians can't: cut down the number of public holidays.

In a move to boost productivity, the cash-strapped Spanish government announced earlier this year that it would eliminate Spaniards' beloved puentes, or "bridge" weekends. That's when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday and, to make a long four-day weekend, workers take off the Monday or Friday in between. Many employers tacitly acquiesce to an extra vacation day, and some close their offices altogether.

With Spain's economy ailing, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called the puentes a luxury his country simply can't afford. So with some exceptions, such as Christmas or New Year's Day, most holidays will be moved to the nearest Monday, creating a three-day weekend instead.

But the government has been mired in negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church, regional governments and labor unions -- all of which want their holidays celebrated on fixed dates, regardless of the day of the week. So despite an agreement with Spain's largest business federation back in January, the calendar of public holidays was not altered in time for the start of the school year two months ago.

By lucky coincidence for the government, most of Spain's 2013 holidays fall on Monday, Friday or weekends anyway, saving politicians the headache of rejiggering the calendar for now. However, two "bridge" weekends will remain, with more in certain regions.

The holiday shuffle will commence in earnest in 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría announced Friday. She outlined possible compromises: The Catholic Church, for example, may agree to celebrate All Saints' Day (traditionally Nov. 1) on a Monday, in exchange for having the Day of the Immaculate Conception fixed on Dec. 8. Unions are pushing for Labor Day to remain on May 1, in accordance with most of Europe. Disagreements persist over at least three other holidays.

Spain has an average of 14 religious and municipal holidays per year, 40% more than the United States. Germany has between eight and 11 public holidays, depending on the federal state. France has between 11 and 13, again depending on the region.


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Photo: A swimmer on the beach last week in San Sebastian, Spain. Credit: Juan Herrero / EPA

Cuba lifts 'exit visa' requirement for its citizens


MEXICO CITY -- The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it plans to rescind the requirement that its citizens obtain exit visas in order to travel abroad, generating hope on the island that a longstanding bureaucratic hindrance to their freedom of movement will soon be removed.

The change in immigration policy was announced Tuesday in the official state newspaper Granma, with the details printed in the government's legal journal. Beginning Jan. 14, the news report said, Cubans wishing to leave the island temporarily will no longer need to obtain a government-issued “travel permit” -- a document that in the past has been withheld for political or arbitrary reasons.

How the new rules will actually change things for everyday Cubans remains to be seen. Much depends on the way the law is applied  and the fine print. Cubans will still need to obtain a passport to travel, and the new rules allow officials to deny anyone a passport for “reasons of public interest.”

The government also said it would maintain special travel restrictions for the professional classes because it fears that they could be lured away by high salaries abroad after benefiting from a low-cost socialized education -- an attempt, as the regime puts it, to preserve “the human capital created by the  revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations.”

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In Hungary, it's time for the 'watering of the girls'

Water is tossed on women in Hungary

Every day on World Now, we choose a striking photo from around the globe. Today we were drawn to this shot from northeastern Hungary, where residents celebrate Easter with the "watering of the girls."

Which, as you can see, is just what it sounds like: Men throw buckets of water at women. It's a fertility ritual that reportedly goes back to the pre-Christianity tribal roots of Hungary.

These young women in the town of Mezokovesd, east of Budapest, are dressed in the traditional clothes of the Matyo minority, rehearsing for Easter celebrations, Agence France-Presse reported.

Hungary could probably use a little levity right now: Prime Minister Viktor Orban is facing increasing criticism for concentrating power in the Eastern European nation, tightening control over the media, judiciary and central bank. And its president, whose position is largely ceremonial, just stepped down over a plagiarism scandal centering on a decades-old doctoral dissertation, the Associated Press reported.

Spot an amazing photo from around the world? Please tweet it to us at @latimesworld.


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Photo: Men throw water at women during a rehearsal of Easter celebrations by members of a folk dance group in Mezokovesd, Hungary. Credit: Attila Kisbenedek / AFP / Getty Images


A Passover photo-op debate in Israel

Passover: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man pushes a cart full of potatoes in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem

Every day on WorldNow, we choose a striking photo from around the world. Today our eye was drawn to this shot of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wheeling potatoes through Jerusalem.

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins Friday night, commemorating the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt. Israeli charities provide potatoes to people in need ahead of the holiday, which exhorts Jews to  declare at their festive meal, "Let all who are hungry come and eat."

Israel's social affairs minister, Moshe Kahlon, criticized charities in his country for making the donations into a photo op, arguing that the nonprofits should give secretly, Haaretz reported Tuesday. One of the nonprofits, Latet, fired back that the government isn't doing enough to help the poor.

The nonprofit "commits to shutting down its food distribution activities as soon as the Social Affairs Ministry takes responsibility for the matter," Latet director Eran Weintrob was quoted as saying in Haaretz.

Besides the debate over charity, some Israelis believe the Passover holiday is also playing a part in national politics: Israeli media speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked the military to postpone evicting Jewish settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron to avoid having soldiers and settlers clash just before the holiday, the Associated Press reported.

Spot a remarkable photo from around the globe? Please tweet it to us @latimesworld.


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Photo: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man pushes a cart full of potatoes in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on Tuesday. Credit: Abir Sultan / European Pressphoto Agency


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