Four injured in opening Pamplona bull-run

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Hundreds of runners fled half-tonne bulls charging through Pamplona's streets Thursday in the first bull-run of Spain's San Fermin fiesta, resulting in four injuries.

Six huge fighting bulls and six steers bolted through the narrow, winding streets of the northern Spanish town, clearing a path through a sea of runners mostly dressed in white, with red handkerchiefs.

Some dared to run just an arm's length before the bulls' horns, glancing nervously behind at the running beasts' curved horns, on the first run of the alcohol-laced festival, which runs to July 14.

Others chased behind the pack, occasionally touching the bulls' sides. Many cowered on the sidelines or peered down from balconies.

Bulls and runners stampeded through an 848.6-metre course from a holding pen to the city's bull ring in 2 minutes, 30 seconds, a spokesman for the festival organisers said.

The run was "fast and clean," the spokesman said.

Four runners -- three Spaniards and a Panamanian -- suffered light injuries and were treated in hospital, he said.

The bull run can attract up to 2,000 to 3,500 runners trying to get as close as possible without being trampled or gored in an event popularised worldwide by Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Pamplona expects more than a million people to join the festival, a heady mixture of danger and festivity, with masses of people downing huge amounts of beer, wine and sangria.

Every year between 200 and 300 participants are injured. Most are hurt after falling but some are trampled or gored by the bulls despite increased safety measures.

The most recent death occurred two years ago when a bull gored a 27-year-old Spaniard to death, piercing his neck, heart and lungs with its horns in front of hordes of tourists.

This year organisers have launched a free iPhone app in English to help revellers to assess their chances of emerging from the festival intact.

It asks users about their behaviour at the festival, including how much they have had to drink and how many hours of sleep they have had.

The daily bull runs are the highlight of the festival, but there is also dancing and a lot of drinking.

In the evening the beasts are killed in the bull ring and their meat is served up in city restaurants.

The city of some 200,000 residents expects at least as many festival-goers as last year when 1.5 million people turned out and hotels reported a 95-percent occupancy rate.

The official opening of the festival and the morning bull runs are broadcast live on public television, drawing millions of viewers.

© 2011 AFP

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