Animal rights activists decry Spanish bull spearing festival

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Animal rights activists in Spain Monday called for outlawing an annual, centuries-old festival where hundreds of townspeople on foot and horseback lance a bull to death.

In the "Toro de la Vega" festival, to be held Tuesday in the fortified central town of Tordesillas, there is no classic arena and no matador.

Instead, a single bull thunders through the town's streets and across a stone bridge over the River Douro to a plain (vega in Spanish) and pine forest where the beast faces the townspeople.

Those on horseback spear the beast to keep it in check. The rest of the town's participants attack the bull on foot, led by 10 young lancers who compete to deliver the death blow.

"If hundreds of people chased a dog and killed it with lances they would be punished under the criminal code for mistreatment of an animal," said Silvia Barquero, spokeswoman for anti-bullfighting and animal rights group PACMA.

"We believe Spanish society demands a change."

PACMA rallied hundreds of protesters in Tordesillas and the nearby city of Valladolid on Sunday to decry the festival, held on the second Tuesday of September since at least 1453, long before the introduction of the classic bullfight at the end of the 17th century.

While calling for the festival to be scrapped, protesters also demanded that it no longer be promoted as an event of National Tourism Interest. "We don't want our country to be known for this festival," Barquero said.

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.

No-one was immediately available to comment on the criticisms at the town hall of Tordesillas.

Protests by anti-bullfighting groups have mounted in Spain since the northeastern regional parliament of Catalonia agreed in July to ban bullfighting from 2012.

© 2010 AFP

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