Last bullfights in Spain's Catalonia before ban

Bullfighter Francisco Rivera Ordonez 'Paquirri' of Spain performs during the first bullfight of the 2011 season after the bullfight ban at the Monumental bullring on June 26, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. Bullfighting in Catalonia will be banned as of January 1, 2012. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

BARCELONA - Spain's top matadors gathered Saturday for a final weekend of bullfighting before the blood sport is banned in the northeast Catalonia region, and crowds of fans carried them for miles (kilometers) to their hotel after they killed the bulls.

Top flight 'toreros' were on the bill both Saturday and Sunday at the La Monumental arena in Barcelona. They include Jose Tomas, one of Spain's most popular bullfighters.

The ban takes effect Jan. 1, but this weekend's fights are the last events of the 2011 season in the Catalan capital.

The conservative, pro-bullfighting newspaper El Mundo ran an analysis by an economist lamenting that the city will lose money by banning bullfighting that is permitted in all other regions of Spain except in the Canary Islands, where it was prohibited in 1991.

The newspaper published another article that read like an obituary, with vignettes about matadors who made their names in Catalonia and others who died in the ring, including four in Barcelona's La Monumental.

Matador Julian Lopez, known by his nickname of "El Juli," said he was saddened and angered that he will no longer be able to take on bulls in Barcelona's ring.

"This is such a beautiful arena, with a lot of tradition both for bullfighters and for this national celebration," Lopez said.

Hundreds of bullfight supporters chanted "Catalonia is pro-bullfighting" as they accompanied the matadors to their hotel after Saturday's fight.

The bullfighting ban for Catalonia was passed last year, but lawmakers later effectively endorsed other bull traditions blasted as cruel by animal rights activists.

They included the summer pastime of attaching metal brackets to bulls' horns with flaming balls of wax before they are set free to chase people in rings or on the streets of small towns, and letting the beasts chase daredevils near seaside marinas until the bulls plunge into the water.

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