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SPAIN/Region votes to ban bullfighting

Lawmakers in the region of Catalonia thrust a sword deep into Spain's centuries-old tradition of bullfighting, banning the blood-soaked pageant. Wednesday'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, which is fervent about the idea of a unified Spain run from Madrid, said it will fight the ban - the first by a major region in the country. 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.

CHINA/Factory blast kills at least 12

A powerful explosion ignited by a broken gas pipeline Wednesday killed at least 12 people, injured about 300 and flattened hundreds of buildings in eastern China in the latest in a series of troubling industrial accidents. The blast occurred at 10:15 a.m. local time at a plastics factory in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. According to state media, the explosion occurred when workers at the factory dug into a nearby polyethylene pipeline. The blast was so strong many residents mistook it for an earthquake. Almost all structures within 100 yards of the blast in the residential area of Qixia district collapsed, many of them old single-story homes marked for demolition. The accident was the latest to raise concerns about industrial safety in China.

BRAZIL/Galapagos off endangered list

The Galapagos Islands have been removed from the UNESCO list of sites endangered by environmental threats or overuse. The island chain, about 620 miles off Ecuador's coast, is home to unique animal species that inspired Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution. In 2007, the United Nations body included the World Heritage site on its endangered list because of damage from tourism, immigration and invasive species. A UNESCO committee meeting in Brazil yesterday said strong action by Ecuador's government to battle these problems means the Galapagos Islands are now safer. Being on the danger list "allows UNESCO to allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property," UNESCO's website said.

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