Catalonia's move to outlaw the centuries-old tradition may have more to do with regional identity than animal rights.
- Starting January 1, 2012, bullfighting will no longer be legal in Catalonia, a region in Spain.
- Bullfighting retains a passionate following in Spain and leading matadors are treated as celebrities.
Catalonia's parliament on Wednesday voted to ban bullfighting from January 1, 2012, becoming the first region in mainland Spain to outlaw the centuries-old tradition.
Cheers broke out in the assembly as the ban was approved with 68 votes in favor and 55 against and nine abstentions, while supporters and opponents of the ban both held noisy rallies outside.
The motion tightens Catalonia's animal protection law to remove an exception for bullfights from a ban on killing or mistreating animals in shows, in the biggest ever setback to the practice in Spain.
Animal rights activists campaigning under the platform "Prou!", or "Enough!" in the Catalan language, had collected 180,000 signatures on a petition calling for the assembly to decide on the ban.
Just before the vote, Francesc Pane, the spokesman for the Catalan Green Party, told the assembly that bullfighting amounted to "gratuitous cruelty" and a "show of torture".
Dozens of supporters and opponents of the blood sport rallied in front of the parliament building during the closely-watched vote, with placards reading "Stop animal cruelty" or "Bulls yes, freedom yes."
Bullfighting retains a passionate following in Spain and leading matadors are treated as celebrities.
But the practice's mass appeal has faded with polls showing a rising disinterest throughout Spain, especially among the young. A 2007 Gallup survey showed that almost three-quarters of Spaniards have no interest in it.
Catalonia, whose capital Barcelona is Spain's second-largest city, has followed the lead of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic which made the practice illegal in 1991.
The move reflects a fall from grace of the sport in the wealthy northeastern region, which has its own language and distinct culture and where many seek independence from Spain.
Barcelona's last working bullring now holds fights fortnightly rather than weekly, and attracts just a couple of hundred season ticket holders compared to some 20,000 at Madrid's main bullring.
But while Catalonia's arguments for banning bullfighting have focused on animal rights, many in the rest of Spain believe the push is also based on a desire among some Catalans to emphasize their distinct identity.
The vote to ban bullfighting came one month after Spain's Constitutional Court struck down several articles of Catalonia's "statute of autonomy", which expanded the already significant powers of regional self-rule.
More than one million people marched in support of the deal -- which was approved by the parliament in Madrid in 2006 and endorsed by Catalan voters in a referendum -- in Barcelona on July 10, according to a police estimate.
Jose Montilla, the socialist president of the Catalan regional government who voted against the bullfighting ban, said he hoped the issue would not trigger a conflict between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
"I expect moderation and a sense of responsibility on behalf of everyone," he told a news conference after the vote.
The main opposition Popular Party, which sees itself as the champion of a centralized Spain, said it would present a motion in Spain's national parliament to annul the prohibition against bullfighting in Catalonia.
Catalonia has long led opposition to bullfighting.
In 2003 it passed a sweeping animal protection law that restricted towns without bullrings from building them and prohibited all children under 14 from attending bullfights.