It was the first step in a process that could see Catalonia become the first region in Spain, outside of the Canary Islands, to ban the spectacle.

Catalan identity

The wealthy region has led opposition to bullfighting, in part due to a desire among some Catalans to strike a separate identity from the rest of Spain.

"Catalan society is ready for change, for the abolition of bullfighting"

Leonardo Anselmi,
Free Animals Association

But polls show rising disinterest in bullfighting throughout Spain, especially among the younger generation, although arenas are regularly filled to capacity for event, which end with the bull being put to death with a sword.

Spain's leading daily newspaper, El Pais, said bullfighting is also suffering from the economic crisis. It noted that this year there were only 900 corridas in the country, 350 less than last year.

The "Prou" petition has been the focus an emotional debate throughout country, as well as in France.

Pedro Baldana, the owner of Barcelona's last major bullring, described the Catalan parliament's decision as "an attack on the freedom" of those who love bullfights.

Hot debate

Victorino Martin, a bull breeder, said it was "a very grave error" in favour of a "minority" who reject bullfighting.

On the eve of the vote, about 300 prominent Catalans opposed to a ban published a manifesto calling for the protection of "cultural heritage".

They said they feared outlawing bullfighting could also lead to a ban on the running of the bulls, also popular in parts of the region.

But Anna Mula, the "Prou" spokeswoman, urged Catalan politicians to end the "torture of animals as a spectacle," arguing that bullfighting is not consistent with "the new values of the 21st century".

"Catalan society is ready for change, for the abolition of bullfighting," Leonardo Anselmi, the head of the Free Animals Association, told a news conference in the Catalan parliament.

The central government in Madrid said it does not support a ban on bullfighting but would respect any decision made by the Catalan parliament.