Catalonia bans bullfighting as Spanish conservatives protest

Vote seen as further bid by region with own language to stand out from the rest of the country.

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BARCELONA // The legislature in the Spanish region of Catalonia outlawed bullfighting today, becoming Spain's first mainland region to do so after a heated debate that pitted the rights of animals against preserving a pillar of traditional culture. Cheers broke out in the legislature after the ban was passed 68 to 55 with nine abstentions. The ban in the northeastern coastal region, including Barcelona, will take effect in 2012.

Catalonia is a powerful, wealthy region with its own language and culture and a large degree of self-rule. Many in Spain have seen the pressure here for a bullfighting ban as a further bid by Catalonia to stand out from the rest of the country. The center-right Popular Party, which is fervent about the idea of Spain as a unified country run from Madrid, and also supports bullfighting, said it is considering filing a suit to overturn the ban.

The practical effect of the ban will be limited: Catalonia has only one functioning bullring, in Barcelona, while another disused bullring is being turned into a shopping mall. It stages 15 fights a year, which are rarely sold out, out of a nationwide total of roughly 1,000 bouts a season. However, bullfighting buffs and Spanish conservatives have taken the drama very seriously, seeing a stinging anti-Spanish rebuke in the grassroots, anti-bullfighting drive which started last year.

The result will energize animal rights groups bent on seeking bans in other regions of Spain. The first Spanish region to outlaw bullfighting was the Canary Islands, in 1991. But fights were never that popular there and when the ban took effect there had not been a bullfight for seven years. That makes the Catalonia vote a much more potent case, even if bullfighting is not as popular there as it is in Madrid or down south in Andalusia.

As debate got under way in Barcelona, protesters from both camps rallied outside the parliament building. Bullfighting opponents carried posters with gory pictures of bleeding animals. One man covered in fake red blood carried a sign in English, "Stop animal cruelty, No more blood." Pro-bullfighting groups carried signs painted on the red and yellow Catalan flag, with slogans such as Libertad y Toros (Freedom and bulls).

The two groups traded taunts and heckled each other. * AP