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After heated debate, Catalonia bans bullfighting

Defenders of the sport see it as a hallowed tradition, but opponents deem bullfighting barbaric. Some see the move as an attempt to assert Catalan identity.

July 28, 2010|By Henry Chu | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain — The independence-minded region of Catalonia became the first on the Spanish mainland to outlaw bullfighting Wednesday after impassioned debate.

Lawmakers in Catalonia's regional assembly approved the ban after emotional speeches that mixed expressions of support for maintaining tradition with denunciations of bullfighting as institutionalized cruelty.

The vote culminated a public initiative to ditch bullfighting that began more than 1œ years ago and has drawn international media coverage. Backers of the ban erupted in cheers in the assembly chamber's gallery.

But critics have assailed the campaign for a ban as a pretext for more nakedly political and nationalist ends. They suspect the true motive is a desire to poke a stick in the eye of the rest of Spain, an assertion of Catalan identity as different.

The assembly vote here in Barcelona, the regional capital, came during a mood of heightened anger among Catalonians clamoring for more autonomy, if not outright independence.

Earlier this month, Catalan nationalists put on one of the biggest demonstrations ever seen in this sun-splashed part of northern Spain. The protest was fueled by outrage over a long-awaited ruling by Spain's constitutional court that upheld most of Catalonia's charter on greater self-rule but refused to recognize a legal basis for calling the region a "nation."

Conservatives say that getting rid of bullfighting further undermines Spanish unity, calling it a gratuitous attack on one of the country's most hallowed traditions.

Advocates of the ban reject suggestions that their views or actions are a byproduct of Catalan separatism. They see bullfighting not as a tradition steeped in romance but a barbaric practice steeped in blood.

When the anti-bullfighting organization Prou (Catalan for "Enough") launched its petition drive to put the issue before lawmakers, its goal was to clear the legal hurdle of 50,000 signatures; it wound up collecting 180,000.

Nonetheless, the issue was a sensitive one for Catalonian politicians, who are facing an election later this year.

Before Wednesday's vote, bullfighting fans and foes gathered outside the parliament building to press their case as lawmakers arrived to take their seats inside. One anti-bullfighting activist stripped himself naked, then poured a bucket of fake blood over himself to encourage legislators to "stop animal cruelty."

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