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Barcelona has a reputation as a city plagued by petty crime, and indeed recently the situation has reached a near-crisis point. Popular wisdom blames the recent rise on immigration, but the fact is that half of the 400 bag-snatchers known to police operating in the centre are Spanish. Because robbery without injury is treated as a misdemeanour under Spanish law, snatchers know that they can operate with near impunity. Tourists should stay alert to possible threats, and follow certain basic security strategies. You may also encounter begging - people come here from other Spanish cities to beg - and you should also beware of people accosting you to give you or sell you flowers, herbs, small Catalan-flag stickers, or who in any other manner try to distract you.

However, don't be unduly paranoid. Most of Barcelona is as safe (or dangerous) as any other city you may be used to - and the potential for violent street crime is much lower than in Britain and the United States. And once you're away from the city and into the Catalan countryside you'll be less troubled by dangerous streets. Most of the region is rural, friendly and safe, though do be on your guard at all times against bag-snatching. As anywhere, when driving, take precautions before pulling over to help apparently stranded motorists - in recent years Peruvian bands have been successfully robbing foreigners driving on Catalan highways by luring them to pull over

Avoiding trouble
bags slung across your body, not off one shoulder; not carrying anything in zipped pockets which you can't keep an eye on; having photocopies of your passport, leaving the original and any tickets in the hotel safe; never leaving your wallet in your back pocket; and noting down travellers' cheque and credit card numbers. Don't depend on moneybelts - good thieves know how they are carried and how to remove them.

The bottom end of the Ramblas and the medieval streets to either side are where you most need to be on your guard. Take the usual precautions at night: avoid unlit streets and dark alleys, don't go out brimming with valuables, and don't flash fancy cameras or look hopelessly lost in run-down areas. Other places to be especially wary are around the Sagrada Família and on the metro.

Thieves often work in pairs, so watch out for people standing unusually close if you're studying postcards or papers at stalls on the Ramblas; keep an eye on your wallet if it appears you're being distracted. Ploys (by some very sophisticated operators) include: the "helpful" person pointing out bird shit (shaving cream or something similar) on your jacket while someone relieves you of your money; the card or paper you're invited to read on the street to distract your attention.

In café terraces never leave your bags unzipped or on a neighbouring chair, place them under your table and loop a chair leg through a shoulder strap. Be careful of someone in a café making a move for your drink with one hand - the other hand will be in your bag as you react to save your drink.

If you have a car don't leave anything in view when you park it; take the radio with you. When driving in the city, keep all car doors locked, thieves can easily snatch a bag from a car's back seat and run off, leaving the driver stranded. Vehicles are rarely stolen, but luggage and valuables left in cars do make a tempting target and rental cars are easy to spot.

Looking for hotel rooms , don't leave any bags unattended anywhere. This applies especially to buildings where the hotel or hostal is on the higher floors and you're tempted to leave baggage in the hallway or ground-floor lobby. Don't assume that your fellow dorm mates or travellers are honest just because they speak your language.


What to do if you're robbed
If you're robbed, you need to go to the police to report it, not least because your insurance company will require a police report. Don't expect a great deal of concern if your loss is relatively small - but do expect the process of completing forms and formalities to take ages.

In the unlikely event that you're mugged , or otherwise threatened, never resist; hand over what's wanted and run straight to the police who will be more sympathetic on these occasions. There's also a police office - Centro Atencíon Policial - specifically designed to help tourists, with English-speaking officers, legal and medical advice, and practical help if you've lost your money and credit cards. We've listed details of the main police stations in Barcelona .


The police
There are four types of police : the Guàrdia Civil, the Policía Nacional, the municipal police known as the Guàrdia Urbana, and the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra, all of them armed.

The Guàrdia Civil , in green uniforms and sometimes sporting black three-cornered hats, are a national police force which are formally a military organization but also investigate crime on a national (and, in some places, local level). Traditionally associated with the oppressive Franco regime, their role in Catalunya has been gradually limited, though they can still be seen guarding some public buildings, and at airports and border crossings.

The Policía Nacional wear uniforms resembling blue combat gear and will normally only be seen in Barcelona. Here they operate primarily as an anti-crime force, which includes street patrols, investigations, checking papers of suspected illegal immigrants, and crowd control. If you are mugged or robbed in Barcelona, it is the Policía Nacional who will take your statement.

More visible on the streets of Barcelona and generally more sympathetic are the Guàrdia Urbana , in blue shirts and navy jackets, who are responsible for controlling the traffic. They are likely to be the first to respond to calls for help. They also guard the Ajuntament installations.

Catalunya also has its own autonomous police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra , whose navy-blue uniforms with red trim give them the aspect of bellhops rather then police. In Barcelona you'll see them guarding buildings which belong to the Generalitat , but in the countryside they are gradually taking over highway patrol and investigative duties from the Guàrdia Civil, as well as from the Policía Nacional in some large towns (such as Girona).


Offences
There are a few offences you might commit unwittingly that it's as well to be aware of.

? In theory you're supposed to carry some kind of identification at all times, and the police can stop you in the street and demand it. In practice they're rarely bothered if you're clearly a foreigner.

? Nude bathing or unauthorized camping are activities more likely to bring you into contact with officialdom, though a warning to cover up or move on is more likely than any real confrontation. Topless tanning is commonplace at all the trendier resorts, but in country areas, where attitudes are still very traditional, you should take care not to upset local sensibilities.

? If you have an accident while driving, try not to make a statement to anyone who doesn't speak fluent English. The SNTO in your home country can provide a list of the most important rules on the road in Spain; and see "Transport: Driving and vehicle rental".

? In theory at least, any drug use is now forbidden. You'll see signs in some bars saying " no porros " (no joints), which you should heed. However, the police are in practice little worried about personal use. Larger quantities (and any other drugs) are a very different matter.

Should you be arrested on any charge, you have the right to contact your consulate , and although they're notoriously reluctant to get involved they are required to assist you to some degree if you have your passport stolen or lose all your money. If you've been detained for a drugs offence, don't expect any sympathy or help from your consulate.


Terrorism
With the abandonment of a year-long unilateral "truce" the Basque terrorist group ETA resumed their campaign of bombings and assassinations in 2000. Despite the fact that Catalunya is the home to a minority which also suffered under the domination of Franco's Madrid, the region (particularly Barcelona) has been the occasional target of attacks; in June 1987 a bomb placed in a department store parking garage killed 28 people and injured over 40 in ETA's bloodiest attack. In the summer and autumn of 2000 their return to violence saw the murders of two representatives of the ruling PP-party and the university professor and socialist politician Ernest Lluch (whose death provoked a demonstration by nearly a million people), and the shooting of a local police officer who stopped two terrorists on their way to blow up a journalist. ETA's Barcelona cell was dismantled in January 2001, following the capture of two members who were driving through the city carrying a bomb (they were going to leave it at the Post Office).

In addition to attacks by ETA, the radical left-wing group GRAPO planted two bombs in Barcelona in 2000, neither of which resulted in deaths. Catalunya's own regionalist terrorist group, Terra Lliure , had a short life in the 1980s and 1990s, but acted only against property which they considered to be emblematic of Castilian domination; their most famous victim was the replica of Columbus's ship, Santa Maria , which used to be moored at the bottom of the Ramblas. All this said the odds against a visitor being affected by terrorism are astronomical, although you may pass by one of the silent noontime gatherings in Plaça Sant Jaume which take place the day after any ETA assassination.

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