Bizarre torments are seen as celebration

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The village of Coria in the Spanish province of Extremadura, where Vicki Moore was badly gored on Sunday night, celebrates the annual June festival of San Juan by shooting barbed darts at a bull through a blowpipe until the beast resembles a pin cushion.

The practice, a tradition which goes back centuries, is typical of regional fiestas where part of the fun for many Spaniards is to inflict pain on animals.

Among the more bizarre village celebrations are "jumping the goat" in which a goat is thrown from a 25-metre church bell tower, chicken racing, ripping the heads off geese, drowning calves in foam and tying flaming torches to a bull's horns. Many of these practices have their origin in pagan times.

Mariana Sanz de Galdeano, President of the Madrid-based National Association for the Defence of Animals, said: "I do not believe Spaniards are more cruel than other Europeans, but in small villages there are bands of youngsters who like cruel diversions. But it is true Spaniards are more indifferent to cruelty against animals, compared to the British."

Spain's animal rights campaigners have made some headway, she says, through promoting an animal protection law, now in force in all but three of Spain's 17 autonomous regions but not Extremadura "where it has not even been proposed".

The law is limited, however, banning only the introduction of recent forms of cruel amusements.

Hence, the practice of tying flaming torches to a bull's horns, introduced five years ago in the village of Colmenar de Oreja near Madrid, was vetoed this year - much to the displeasure of the locals. But in nearby Torres de la Alameda, the mayor refused a ban, talking of a 17th century tradition and how "the animal doesn't suffer".