By Humphrey Carter

PALMA
THE Guardia Civil traffic department has reduced the number of fines handed out to Balearic drivers by 90 per cent this month as part of the force's protest over poor pay, unacceptable working conditions and a serious lack of equipment and this weekend, 50 members of the Balearic force will join hundreds from across Spain in a mass demonstration in Madrid.

The secretary general of the Balearic branch of the Guardia Civil union (AUGC), Angel Morales, said yesterday that the “pens down” protest -- the Guardia Civil is not officially permitted to go on strike because it is a paramilitary organisation -- is proving to be a great success.

He was, however, quick to underline that the Guardia Civil is not turning a blind eye to offending drivers but, instead of handing out fines for minor traffic offences, traffic officers are stopping and informing drivers of what they have done wrong, what the possible consequences could be and how they should behave on the roads. “Instead of fining drivers were are educating drivers,” Morales said. “The campaign is proving a success and officers are reporting a very positive response from drivers. “The number of accidents has in fact fallen significantly as a result. “Fines are obviously being handed out and points docked for serious offences such as speeding and driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. “All the units are going out on patrol as usual but instead of merely fining drivers, we're trying to impress upon them the importance of respecting the highway code and saving lives,” he added. “Here in the Balearics the protest is being respected by 200 Guardia Civil which represents nearly the entire traffic department,” Morales said.
The “pens down” is set to continue until the end of the month, unless Saturday's protest in the capital persuades central government to respond to the Guardia Civil's demand for better rights. “Prime Minister Zapatero has failed to honour the electoral promises he made to the force,” Morales said. “We also need a new disciplinary code of conduct -there are members of the force serving military prison sentences for things as ridiculous as eating a sandwich while on duty or failing to produce a doctor's note when off sick,” he explained.

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