Spain's Catalonia votes on banning bullfighting
Catalonia's regional parliament met Wednesday to vote on whether to become the first region on mainland Spain to ban bullfighting.
The assembly began debating the issue just after 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) with the results of the vote expected around noon.
The outcome of the vote is expected to be tight as both the ruling Socialist Party of Catalonia and the Catalan nationalist party CiU, who together have 85 votes in the 135-seat assembly, have given their lawmakers the freedom to vote according to their consciences.
But Miquel Iceta, the spokesman for the socialists, said there would be no "surprise" and the motion woudl be approved.
It calls for Catalonia's animal protection law to remove from 2012 an exception for bullfights from a ban on the killing or mistreating animals in shows.
If it is approved, Catalonia -- home to Spain's second-largest city, Barcelona -- would become the first region in the country outside of the Canary Islands to ban bullfighting in the biggest setback for the practice to date.
Bullfighting was made illegal in the Canary Islands in 1991.
The vote comes after animal rights activists campaigning under the platform "Prou!", or "Enough!" in the Catalan language, collected 180,000 signatures in on a petition calling for the assembly to decide on a motion on the ban.
Several dozens supporters and opponents of bullfighting gathered outside of the assembly.
"Stop animal cruelty," wrote the signs of the anti-bullfighting crowd while those in favour of the practice said: "Bulls yes, freedom yes".
While the arguments for banning bullfighting have focused on animal rights, many in the rest of Spain believe the push in Catalonia is based largely on a desire among some Catalans to emphasise their distinct identity.
The vote comes one month after Spain's Constitutional Court struck down several articles of Catalonia's "statute of autonomy", which expanded the already significant powers of self-rule of the region with its own language and distinct culture.
The statute was approved by the parliament in Madrid in 2006 and endorsed by Catalan voters in a referendum.
More than one million people marched in support of the deal in Barcelona on July 10, according to a police estimate. The procession was preceded by a huge Catalan flag with the slogan "we are a nation, we decide ourselves".
Conservative media commentators have suggested that Catalan lawmakers may seek their revenge by banning bullfighting.
In an editorial published Tuesday, centre-right daily newspaper El Mundo wrote that the issue had become a "political issue" in a region where the "idea is to ban everything that is Spanish".
The Catalan public works minister and regional government spokesman, Joaquim Nadal, said he was confident the issue would not be used as "an element of confrontation" between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
"Bulls are bulls and politics is politics," he told reporters in Barcelona late on Tuesday.
In reaction to the debate in Catalonia, several other local governments including Madrid have in recent months declared bullfighting as part of their region's cultural heritage.
© 2010 AFP