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Spanish region backs flaming bull festivals

In July, had voted to ban bullfights

A bull with flaming horns ran at an event last month in Catalonia, Spain. Animal-rights activists say such traditions are cruel. A bull with flaming horns ran at an event last month in Catalonia, Spain. Animal-rights activists say such traditions are cruel. (Manu Fernandez/ Associated Press)
By Daniel Woolls
Associated Press / September 23, 2010

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MADRID — Lawmakers who banned bullfighting in Spain’s Catalonia region this summer voted yesterday to endorse other traditions that have been criticized as cruel to bulls, such as attaching burning sticks to their horns as they chase human thrill seekers.

The vote will affect only the Catalonia region of northeast Spain, but it addresses another manifestation of this country’s timeless fascination with bulls and the testing of people’s bravery with the snorting animals.

Besides watching the deadly duel of matador and bull, Spaniards run with bulls in Pamplona every year, spear them to death from horseback in another northern town — neither are in Catalonia — and cordon off town squares to let children dodge feisty calves of the kind used to breed top-grade fighter bulls.

In July, Catalonia banned bullfighting on grounds of cruelty, becoming only the second Spanish region to do away with the centuries-old tradition, after the Canary Islands.

Yesterday’s bill — passed by a 114-to-14 vote, with five abstentions — protects other bull-related traditions in Catalonia that activists find repulsive.

Known as “correbous’’ in Catalan, these traditions include attaching short sticks with flaming wax or fireworks to the bulls’ horns, then letting the animals run around and chase people or letting the beasts chase human daredevils by seaside marinas and plunge into the water.

The goal of the spectacles is not to harm or kill the bulls, but animal rights activists say the experience is still denigrating and terrifying for the animals and that some of the beasts get burned or even drown during such events.

Catalonia’s dominant party, a center-right nationalist coalition called Convergence and Union, says the bill — which it sponsored — seeks to fill a legal vacuum by establishing for the first time safety norms and other regulations for these festivals, including measures to protect the bulls themselves. But the legislation is widely viewed as a way to enshrine the customs and buffer them against pressure to do away with them.

Francesc Sancho, a party spokesman, insisted the customs are not cruel and can not be equated with bullfighting because the animals do not die. He said the bill seeks to protect bulls by, for instance, limiting how long such spectacles can last and having veterinarians examine the bulls afterward for signs of injury or stress.

Of the flaming horns, he said, “If the horns are wide enough, the bull does not get burned.’’

Sancho insisted that if the Catalonia region banned bullfighting on grounds of cruelty, it only makes sense to regulate the village festivals to minimize harm to the animals.

But Alejandra Garcia, an animal rights activist who took part in a grass-roots campaign that led to the vote on banning bullfighting, said bulls do suffer in the village parties.

“And it is absolutely unnecessary because the animal is being made to suffer just as a form of entertainment, so people have something fun to do in summer. That’s all it is,’’ she said.

In some seaside festivals, bulls chase thrill seekers on platforms set up along marinas and usually end up falling into the water. People in boats lead the bulls back onto ground and back onto the platform for another go at it.

Garcia said there have been instances in which bulls simply swam out to sea and drowned.

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