Thousands join first day of Pamplona bull-run

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Thousands of daredevils dashed through the narrow streets of Pamplona today for a goring-free first bull run of this year's San Fermin fiesta that unofficially ushers in Spain's summer party season lasting through August.

The thrillseekers raced to keep ahead of six fighting bulls and six bell-tinkling steers tasked with trying to keep the beasts together along the 930-yard (850-meter) course from a holding pen to the northern city's bull ring.

Several of the runners were knocked to the ground and some were trampled on by the animals but there were no gorings, and Red Cross workers told National Spanish Television there were no serious injuries.

The 8 a.m. run is the highlight of the nine-day street drinking festival, and comes after a full day and night of hard partying.

Dozens of runners, dressed in the festival's traditional white shirts and pants with red sashes, sang a chant to a statue of San Fermin at the start of the route seconds before a firecracker rocket blast signaled the release of the bulls from the pen.

Waiting on a corner was retired American pilot Peter Rostow, who then dashed about 35 yards (meters) alongside the bulls on a cobblestoned street before taking cover in a doorway, his heart pumping with adrenaline. He drank no wine or sangria the day before to prepare — only water.

"I know bulls, but they came about a hundred times faster than I thought they would," said Rostow, 58, of Austin, Texas. "I wasn't prepared for that, and the intensity of the senses was overwhelming, the smell of the bulls, the sound of them running, and the fear."

The run, broadcast live on national television, lasted 2 minutes and 45 seconds, a relatively fast sprint that saw the bulls staying together and paying little attention to the runners.

Spaniard Alfonso Gamboa didn't run but said the race was considered a good one because the bulls stayed in a tight pack, making it easier for runners who generally seemed sober to sprint safely and without the diversion of a lone wild bull.

"They went quickly and together, and because of that the people could run well," said Gamboa, 50, a Pamplona businessman. "It was pretty, and there weren't a lot of drunks."

After the run, people pack the bull ring to chase and taunt young calves while others resume partying around the town. The festival features eight bull runs in total.

The party's start on Tuesday was marred when Basque separatists prohibited from displaying their flag on a huge stage raised one into the air from a celebrating crowd of tens of thousands and unfurled a banner demanding that terrorists convicted of bombings and killings be moved to prisons closer to their relatives.

Police intervened, beating people with batons, and fist fights also broke out between supporters of the ETA Basque separatist group and Spaniards opposed to the Basque independence movement.

Some hurled bottles of beer and champagne at officers, but ended up hitting people in the crowd instead, witnesses said.

An Associated Press reporter saw police removing the Basque flag from the plaza, and four officers carried out one man who appeared to be injured or unconscious.

Police at the scene declined comment. The Diario de Navarra newspaper reported Wednesday that a 31-year-old Spanish woman suffered serious injuries after being hit in the head with a bottle.

But the party resumed quickly after the melee, masses of partiers drinking all night on the streets of Pamplona, yelling "San Fermin!" and "Ole!"

The bulls that ran Wednesday morning will be killed in the evening in the bull ring, and their meat gets served up in Pamplona's restaurants.

Dozens are injured each year in the morning runs. Most get hurt after falling, but some are gored and trampled by the beasts. Last year's festival saw the first fatal goring in nearly 15 years.

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