Lights go out when Spanish city fails to pay bill

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A Spanish city that failed to pay its electricity bill got a shock when the lights went out at many city buildings including a pool being used by swimmers.

Albacete, a city of 175,000 people in central Spain, has racked up unpaid bills of more than one million euros ($1.4 million) with electricity giant Iberdrola, city and company officials said Wednesday.

Among the buildings that plunged into the dark Tuesday were a library, a sporting centre -- and a swimming pool.

"A lot people were swimming when they cut the power," the city's chief of staff Irene Soriano told AFP.

"These are the first cuts we have had but we fear more."

Iberdrola had warned in advance of the cuts in non-essential government services, she said.

"They were the ones who decided which services were not essential," Soriano said.

Albacete's mayor Carmen Bayod, of the conservative Popular Party, managed to pursuade Iberdrola at the last minute to leave on the power at a nursery school, she added.

An Iberdrola spokeswoman, Elena Gonzalez, confirmed the power cut but declined further comment.

Albacete has debts of more than 15 million euros with other suppliers and is in debt repayment discussions with various banks, Soriano said.

Many Spanish cities and regions, hit by the global financial crisis and the 2008 property bubble collapse, are in financial trouble and running far behind on bill payments.

In the Castile-La Mancha region, in which Alabacete lies, seven private clinics last week suspended offering free state-funded abortions to patients because the regional government was more than a million euros behind in refunding the operations.

The red ink running through the accounts of Spain's city and regional governments is a major concern for the markets, which fear it could compromise the central government's targets for cutting the annual public deficit.

The budget deficit for the 17 regions amounted to 1.2 percent of gross domestic product during the first half of the year -- nearly reaching the full-year target of 1.3 percent.

Those annual deficits are adding to the accumulated debt, which amounted to a record 133.172 billion euros as of June 30 -- equal to 12.4 percent of the country's total annual economic output.

© 2011 AFP

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