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Catalonia bullfight ban sparks fight over traditions

BARCELONA, Spain - Lawmakers in the region of Catalonia thrust a sword deep into Spain's centuries-old tradition of bullfighting, banning the blood-soaked pageant that has fascinated artists and writers from Goya to Hemingway.

Yesterday's vote in the Catalan parliament prohibits bullfighting starting in 2012 in the northeastern region that centers on Barcelona. Although animal rights activists want to extend the ban, there is no significant national movement to do away with bullfighting in the rest of Spain.

Many see the vote as a political statement by a wealthy and powerful region that likes to assert how different it is from the rest of Spain, rather than an expression of concern over cruelty to the half-ton beasts by sword-wielding matadors.

The center-right Popular Party, fervent about the idea of a unified Spain run from Madrid, said it will fight the ban - the first by a major region. It will press the national Parliament to pass a law giving protected status to bullfighting and bar regions from outlawing it, said Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, president of the party's Catalan branch.

Still, animal rights activists rejoiced and cheers broke out in Catalonia's 135-seat legislature when the speaker announced the ban had passed 68-55 with nine abstentions.

"We are euphoric with the banning of bullfighting in Catalonia. It's the beginning of the end," said Nacho Paunero, president of the animal rights group Refuge, which collected 50,000 signatures in a bid to force a similar vote in the Madrid regional parliament. "We want debate in Madrid now."

- AP

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