Lance-wielding Spanish townspeople speared a huge fighting bull to the death Tuesday, defying a lone protester who sprayed some of them with an irritant.
Hundreds of people, many on horseback, turned out for the combat with a 608-kilogram (1,338-pound) black bull named Afligido — Spanish for Sorrowful — in the centuries-old “Toro de la Vega” festival.
The massive beast charged through the fortified town of Tordesillas, central Spain, crossing a bridge over the River Duero and into a plain in a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Before the lancing began, a female protester sprayed an irritant at some of those taking part before being taken away by police, a witness to the event said.
The ritual, which has been held every second Tuesday in September since at least 1453, pressed ahead regardless and about a dozen lancers on foot and horseback attempted to spear the bull’s flesh.
One of the lancers on foot struck the first blow, conferring the right to lead the bloody, half-hour confrontation with the beast as others hemmed the animal in.
The bull was finished off with a final blow to the head from a large screwdriver.
Some 200 animal rights protesters later staged a rally in central Madrid to condemn the tradition, which predates the introduction of the classic bullfight at the end of the 17th century.
The protesters, carrying banners showing their website “rompeunalanza.com”, chanted “Tordesillas, national shame” before breaking wooden lances.
“We are protesting over the celebration of the Toro de la Vega in which hundreds of people on foot and horseback lance a bull to death,” said Silvia Barquero, spokeswoman for animal rights group PACMA.
“We want the end of bullfighting and especially the Toro de la Vega which is even more savage than the bullfight,” she said in an interview.
Barquero said she believed the end of all bullfighting in Spain was approaching.
The northeastern region of Catalonia will hold its last ever bullfight September 25 in Barcelona, after voting last year to end centuries of bullfighting — a first for mainland Spain.
Opinion polls show most Spaniards do not approve of bullfighting, Barquero added, rejecting arguments that the bullfight is an essential part of Spanish culture.
“Culture cannot be based in the torture and death of an animal. This festival is not supported by most Spanish people.”
PACMA challenges the Tordesillas town hall’s decision in May to declare the Toro de la Vega as a cultural asset.
Each region of Spain has responsibility for its own animal protection laws, usually with exceptions for bullfighting. The festival in Tordesillas is allowed under the laws of the Castilla y Leon region.