Street vendors in 'sandwich war'

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The Independent Online

Madrid's fiercely entrepreneurial Chinese community is embroiled in a bitter "sandwich war" in which knife fights have erupted among rival clans competing to supply the Spanish capital's night-owls with snacks.

Chinese vendors of beer and cola and bulky sandwiches filled with scarlet sausage are a familiar sight to anyone in the city centre's streets in the early hours. Sellers perch their modest wares on cardboard boxes and do a roaring trade, but have to keep an eye out for the police.

Within the city's tight-knit Chinese community there is a battle for the best pitches. At least four people have been stabbed this year as clans fight over street corners, police say.

The vendors collect their food and drink from a central depot, a flat near the Gran Via, load their rucksacks and rush to a spot. When they sell out they return and reload.

If police approach, vendors sweep their food and drinks into a plastic bag and pop it into a nearby rubbish bin, until the coast is clear. The city's sealed rubbish bins are opened with a triangular "key" which vendors have got hold of. They often work in pairs, one selling, the other on watch. They must pay clan bosses a "tax'' on their earnings.

Their trade is illegal - street food sales are banned - but it is profitable. A vendor with a good pitch can make €200 (£135) a night.

Police say Chinese women complain that their menfolk gamble away all their takings. And there is no estimate of how much Chinese mafias extort from the vendors, because a code of silence prevails.