France rejects bullfighting ban
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France's Constitutional Council on Friday rejected a request by animal-rights activists to ban bullfighting in certain southern parts of the country where it is still authorised.
The council said it was not against the spirit of the constitution to allow the practice in some regions even though it is banned in most of the country.
France holds dozens of bullfights every year, with more than 1,000 animals killed annually in bullfights which supporters defend as part of local traditional culture and an important tourist attraction.
The council said the provision allowing bullfighting in the south was "precise, objective and rational", adding that "these traditional practices thus authorised do not infringe upon constitutional rights."
"This decision is excellent news," said André Viard of the ONCT, a group which defends bullfighting in France. He said the ruling from the Constitutional Council "guarantees cultural liberties and endorses the idea of cultural exceptions".
The anti-bullfighting group CRAC and the animal-rights organisation DDA had asked the council to impose a nationwide ban, by closing the loophole which allows the tradition in southern areas.
Polls have generally indicated that about two-thirds of French people would like to see bullfighting banned entirely, although the latest one published on Thursday found 48 percent in favour of a ban, 42 percent for the status quo and 10 percent with no opinion.
The sport has many passionate defenders, including Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who enraged bullfighting opponents earlier this month by insisting it is a tradition that should be saved.
"It's something I love, it's part of my family's culture," said Valls, who was born in Spain and moved with his family to France when he was a child. "It's a culture that we have to preserve."
Defenders have also pointed to the economic benefits of a sport that they say attracts large numbers of tourists to southern France, especially to hugely popular ferias in cities like Nimes and Arles.
The Arles Easter Feria, for example, attracts 500,000 visitors over six days, each spending about 100 euros a day, according to Christian Mourisard, the head of the city's tourist office.
Animal rights activists plan to continue their fight to have bullfighting banned, despite Friday's setback.
They are lobbying to have parliament enact a ban and are also considering a challenge to the practice through the European Court of Human Rights.
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