Mayor finds he has a bear behind

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THE LATEST constant companion of the Mayor of Madrid is the talk of the town. But Jose Maria Alvarez del Manzano has been going to any lengths to shake off his cuddly friend.

Don Oso (Mr Bear) is really an unemployed 23-year-old worker, known only as Titi. He is being paid by the unions of 30,000 municipal workers to follow the mayor around in a bear suit as a reminder that their traditional seasonal bonus has not been paid. The mayor insists that doing so would break the threshold of a 3.5 per cent rise laid down for civil servants.

Don Oso has followed the mayor on to aeroplanes, obtaining seats behind him, and has stood outside a diplomatic reception to hand ambassadors and their wives leaflets. He is also threatening to become the pantomime hit of the Christmas season for the children of Madrid. Kids, oblivious to the mayor's discomfort, have clambered up to climb on Mr Bear's back during Mr Alvarez del Manzano's recent public appearances.

'The mayor tries to give me the slip by leaving through back doors. He's really pissed off,' Mr Bear said yesterday, clutching a briefcase with the slogan 'Mr Mayor, pay what you owe.'

The mayor's patience reached breaking point earlier this week. 'That bear could be a terrorist in disguise,' he told his bodyguards during a diplomatic reception. 'Demand to see his identification documents.'

Don Oso duly obliged. There was, it seemed, no law against dressing up as a bear. Now it is he, not the mayor, who is in greater demand for seasonal fiestas.