| GEO Amazing and Interesting|
| Bullfighting could be banned in Barcelona|
| Updated at: 1256 PST, Wednesday, July 28, 2010|
MADRID: The vote on Wednesday to abolish bullfights in the northeastern autonomous region of Catalonia follows an intense campaign by animal rights activists to put an end to an "outdated and cruel" part of Spanish culture.
It has also been 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.
The regional government was moved to propose the vote after 180,000 Catalan citizens signed a petition circulated by anti-bullfighting group Prou! Or Enough!
The campaign has won international support, with backing from celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais and actress Pamela Anderson, who hope it will be the first step to outlawing bullfighting all together.
"This week, the world is watching Catalonia," said Mike Baker, CEO of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) which collected a further 140,000 signatures worldwide, in support of a ban. "Local MPs have the chance to make a bold statement about the region's modern attitude by refusing to allow the continuance of this outdated and cruel practice."
Interest in Spain's "national fiesta" has waned in the region and dozens of local councils, including Barcelona, have declared over the last few years that they are officially "anti-bullfighting".
The Plaza de Toros Monumental is the last of Barcelona's three bullrings to still stage "corridas" and even it struggles to fill a third of its 19,000 seats, often attracting more tourists than locals.
The ban would only affect bullfighting and does not extend to other spectacles involving bulls such as "corre bou", where the public chase bulls through the streets and "bouembolat", which involves attaching fires to the bulls' horns. Both take place during festivals firmly considered part of Catalan culture.
The proposed ban, which would be introduced from 2012, has sparked a furious debate in a country where matadors are celebrated personalities commanding almost as much attention as the top footballers.
In an editorial published on Tuesday, centre-right daily newspaper El Mundo expressed a sentiment echoed across much of Spain – that the move had little to do with animal cruelty but had become a "political issue" in a region where the "idea is to ban everything that is Spanish".
Simon Casas, a former matador turned bullfighting promoter summed it up. "In the name of radical Catalan nationalism, they are striking a blow to the soul of the Spanish people."
Supporters of bullfighting argue that it is an important industry in Spain and claim that it generates about €2.5 billion (£2 billion) a year for the Spanish economy, or 1.5 per cent of GDP. A ban in Catalonia would cost the industry €300 million a year reportedly and put thousands out of work at a time when Spain is already struggling with 20 per cent unemployment.
Workers in the bullfighting industry have threatened to sue the Catalan authorities if the ban goes ahead arguing that it contravenes "human right legislation" by denying them a means to earn a living.
The vote in the 135-seat Catalan parliament on Wednesday morning is expected to be very close with the region's dominant two political parties, the centre right nationalist coalition CiU and the Catalan branch of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero's Socialist party, both allowing their members to vote freely.
If passed Catalonia would be the first region on Spain's mainland to introduce a ban. The Canary Islands outlawed bullfights in 1991.