MADRID: Spain's parliament is expected to vote Tuesday on a petition demanding bullfighting be declared a key part of the country's cultural heritage, a year after the practice was banned in the independence-minded region of Catalonia.
The petition organised by the Catalan Bullfighting Federation signed by nearly 600,000 people states that "bullfighting belongs to Spain's global culture, and to the historical and cultural patrimony common to all Spaniards".
Approval of the petition would pave the way for the centuries-old tradition to be declared an "asset of cultural interest", which would give bullfighting greater legal and financial protection.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, which holds a majority in parliament following a landslide general election win in November 2011, backs the petition, virtually guaranteeing its approval.
The move will likely stoke tensions with the government of the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia which has promised to hold a referendum on independence from Spain next year.
Catalonia's regional parliament voted in July 2010 to ban the sport from January 2012 after animal rights groups managed to garner 180,000 signatures for a petition demanding a debate on the issue.
It was the first region in mainland Spain to ban the tradition, following a similar move by Spain's Canary Islands in 1991.
Critics say the move was as much about Catalonia -- which has its own distinct language and culture -- underlining its regional identity as an issue of animal rights.
Animal rights groups have vowed to fight any move to declare bullfighting a cultural asset.
"We are not going to remain with our arms crossed. The popular demand for the end of bullfights, and the approval of this petition, will only fuel protests in the entire country," said the director of the Spanish branch of animal rights group AnimaNaturalis, Aida Gascon.
Opinion polls show rising opposition to bullfighting throughout Spain, especially among the young, although bullfights remain a key feature of religious holidays and arenas are regularly filled to capacity for the spectacle.