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Fatality Unlikely to Detract From Bull Run Or Other Festivals

July 14, 1995

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ The Pamplona bull running in which an American was killed is the most renowned, but there are countless other summer festivals across Spain featuring animals in rituals.

Many foreigners _ and some Spaniards _ call these festivals barbarous. But most Spaniards see them as an essential part of their lives, something that reinforces their national identity.

Why run with the bulls?

``You are taking a chance with life, but by doing it you appreciate life more,″ said 32-year-old Chema Montero, a Spaniard who runs each year.

A 22-year-old American, Matthew P. Tassio, was killed Thursday after falling during the city’s famous running of the bulls. As the Glen Ellyn, Ill., native tried to get up, a 1,100-pound bull ran a horn through his liver and into the main artery leading from his heart, hospital officials said.

Pamplona is the best-known of Spain’s fiestas, popularized in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel ``The Sun Also Rises.″ It draws thousands of foreigners to what has turned into a week-long drinking party that overshadows the eight daily runs.

Tassio’s death was the 13th in Pamplona since 1924 and the first since 1980.

The danger in Pamplona comes not so much from the six fighting bulls, who are basically running scared after they are released from a corral each morning. They have nowhere to go but down the narrow, chute-like street leading to the bullring.

More dangerous is the crush of about 1,500 people. Many, having partied all night, are tired, and often they trample one another along the half-mile route trying to stay ahead of the bulls.

Experienced runners seldom go more than a few hundred feet during the half-mile run, veering off at corners or doorways where wisdom dictates. Long-time runners can predict if the bulls will choose the left or the right side of the street at certain turns.

Despite Thursday’s killing, the running of the bulls at Pamplona is probably the least controversial of Spain’s summer festivals.

Other events have been targeted by critics, mostly British animal rights activists. Last month, Briton Vicki Moore was seriously gored by a bull while videotaping a ceremony in the town of Coria, 150 miles southwest of Madrid, in which the animal runs around a plaza with flaming gobs of tar on its horns.

Social anthropologists explain that the ceremonies involving animals were originally re-enactments of battles between Muslim Moors who controlled Spain for 800 years and Christians, who sought their expulsion. The Christians won in 1492 when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella completed the reconquest of Spain.

Spaniards have remained generally indifferent to criticism of their fiestas. They argue that reports of mistreatment have been exaggerated, adding that Spanish laws are strict in protecting animals in the festivals. But people admit the laws are often ignored, particularly in small towns.

In one fiesta in El Carpio de Tajo, a live goose is hung upside-down from a rope draped across the town square. A rider on horseback passes and yanks the head off the fowl.

In the town of Manganeses de La Polvorosa, a goat is dropped from the church belfry _ and caught by townspeople holding a blanket below _ to honor a patron saint.

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