Catalan lawmakers have voted to ban bullfighting across the northeastern region striking a blow to aficionados of the most emblematic and controversial Spanish tradition.
The Parliament of Catalonia voted 68 in favour and 55 against with nine abstentions to abolish bullfighting on the grounds of animal cruelty ushering in the first outlawing of the tradition on mainland Spain.
The vote followed months of impassioned debate over the subject of bullfighting that pitted animal rights activists against the supporters of what is known as Spain's "national fiesta".
Campaigners against the “cruel and unnecessary spectacle” hailed the result as a “historic victory” and one that they hoped would be taken up across other regions of Spain.
”Today five centuries of cruelty have ended because the people of Catalonia wanted it,” said Deborah Parris, a spokesman for anti-bullfighting group Prou! – meaning Enough!
”The suffering of animals in Catalan bullrings has been abolished once and for all. It has created a precedent we hope will be replicated in other democratic parliaments, in those regions and countries where such cruel bullfights are still allowed.”
The Catalan regional government was moved to propose the vote after 180,000 citizens signed a petition circulated by the anti-bullfighting group. Interest in bullfighting has been on the wane in the region and only one of Barcelona's three bullrings still stages corridas although it struggles to fill the seats.
Supporters of the ban let out a cheer when results came through at the parliament in Barcelona and some animal rights activists broke down in tears.
Outside the building protesters had gathered ahead of the vote, some baring photographs of gory scenes from bullfights. One man stood naked, covered in fake red blood, with the sign: “Stop animal cruelty, No more blood”.
Close by was a camp of those supporting bullfighting, carrying slogans such as Libertad y Toros, meaning Freedom and bulls.
They will go home today, bitterly disappointed that from January 1, 2012 bullfights will no longer be staged within Catalonia.
Many are furious that the debate was seized on by Catalan nationalists as a means to express independence from Madrid at a time of growing political unease between the regional and national government.
”Among those intent on banning bullfighting there is a political movement to show that Catalonia is not Spain,” said the writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who has been outspoken against the ban.
The centre-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 suit to overturn the ban.
Those who work in the bullfighting industry have warned that they face losses of 400m euros and have said they could sue the Catalan government for denying them a means to earn a living.