Bullfighting critics, fans face off in Catalonia
Animal rights activists squared up to bullfighting fans outside Catalonia's parliament in Barcelona Wednesday as the region became the first in mainland Spain to ban the tradition.
"Down with cruelty!" chanted opponents of bullfights, with one even appearing naked and drenched in red liquid, while defenders of the centuries-old ritual responded with cries of "Long live freedom!".
Dozens of protesters from both camps gathered under a blazing sun outside of the separatist-minded northeastern region's parliament as lawmakers voted 68 to 55 in favour of banning bullfighting from January 1, 2012.
"Today stupidity joined forces with political opportunism," chemist Juame Josa, who supports bullfighting, told AFP.
Defenders of bullfighting, many who carried red and yellow Spanish flags, chanted "Dictator! Dictator!" when the regional government's vice-president Josep-Luis Carod-Rovira, who voted for the ban, spoke.
Jose Montilla, the president of the Catalan regional government who voted against the bullfighting ban, was also jeered by defenders of the ritual who chanted "Bulls, yes! Freedom, yes!".
Opponents of bullfighting responded by speaking out against the "cruelty" of killing bulls in the ring and the "barbarity" of a spectacle which they said was obsolete in the beginning of the 21st century.
One man appeared turned up naked and covered in red to represent blood near signs that read: "Stop animal cruelty. No more blood."
Inside the parliament bullfighting opponents, mostly young women, hugged each other, cried and cheered when the result of the vote was announced just before noon.
The vote was held after animal rights activists campaigning under the platform "Prou!", or "Enough!" in the Catalan language, gathered 180,000 signatures on a petition calling for the assembly to decide on the ban.
"Today five centuries of cruelty have come to an end and from now on ethical issues will justify a re-examination of our traditions," the group said in a statement.
In Madrid dozens of bullfighting opponents gathered in the central Puerta del Sol to drink champagne and celebrate the victory for their cause.
"We are euphoric with the ban on bullfighting in Catalonia," said Nacho Paunero, the president of the El Refugio association which takes care of abused or abandoned animals.
"This is the beginning of the end and we want a debate now on the issue in Madrid," he added.
The head of Spanish animal rights group AnimaNaturalis, Aida Gascon, the decision by the Catalan regional parliament had "opened the door to the abolition of bullfighting around the world."
Aside from Spain, bullfighting is staged in neighbouring Portugal and France as well as across Spain's former colonies in Latin America.
© 2010 AFP