Activists protest bullfights ahead of Spain's San Fermin festival

PAMPLONA, Spain, July 5 (Reuters) - Dressed in masks and holding up banners, dozens of animal rights activists staged a protest against bullfights in Pamplona on Thursday, ahead of the northern Spanish city's famed San Fermin festival.

The event's daily running of the bulls draws tourists from around the world to see runners leading the animals through the city's streets. Bullfights are held in the evening.

Standing outside Pamplona's city hall, demonstrators held up "Stop bull fights" signs and shouted slogans such as "Fiestas without blood" during the protest, organized by animal rights organizations AnimaNaturalis and PETA.

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Activists call for an end to bullfighting in Spain's Pamplona
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Activists call for an end to bullfighting in Spain's Pamplona
Animal rights protesters demonstrate for the abolition of bullfights a day before the start of the famous running of the bulls San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera
An animal rights protester gets emotional while demonstrating for the abolition of bullfights, a day before the start of the famous running of the bulls San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Protesters take part in a demonstration against bullfighting before the start of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent West
PAMPLONA, SPAIN - JULY 05: Animal rights activists protest against bullfights ahead of San Fermin Running of the bulls at Plaza Consistorial on July 5, 2018 in Pamplona, Spain. Animal rights organization the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis organized a performance to call for a San Fermin festival with no blood and the abolition of bullfightings. Protesters wearing masks depicting bulls hold red smoke flares and placards reading messages against bullfighting in different languages. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Protesters take part in a demonstration against bullfighting before the start of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent West
Animal rights protesters demonstrate for the abolition of bullfights a day before the start of the famous running of the bulls San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Animal rights protesters demonstrate for the abolition of bullfights a day before the start of the famous running of the bulls San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Protesters take part in a demonstration against bullfighting before the start of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent West
PAMPLONA, SPAIN - JULY 05: An animal rights activist poses for pictures as she holds a placard reading 'Stop the bloody bullfights' after a protest against bullfights ahead of San Fermin Running of the bulls at Plaza Consistorial on July 5, 2018 in Pamplona, Spain. Animal rights organization the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis organized a performance to call for a San Fermin festival with no blood and the abolition of bullfightings. Protesters wearing masks depicting bulls hold red smoke flares and placards reading messages against bullfighting in different languages. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Pro-animal rights activists protest against bullfighting and bull-running during a demonstration called by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis pro-animal groups on the eve of the San Fermin festivities in the Northern Spanish city of Pamplona on July 5, 2018. - The San Fermin festival is a symbol of Spanish culture that attracts thousands of tourist to watch the bull-runs despite heavy condemnation from animal rights groups. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-animal rights activists hold banners that reads 'Stop bullfighting' during a protest against bullfighting and bull-running called by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis pro-animal groups on the eve of the San Fermin festivities in the Northern Spanish city of Pamplona on July 5, 2018. - The San Fermin festival is a symbol of Spanish culture that attracts thousands of tourist to watch the bull-runs despite heavy condemnation from animal rights groups. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)
PAMPLONA, SPAIN - JULY 05: Animal rights activists protest against bullfights holding a placard reading 'Stop the bloody bullfights' ahead of San Fermin Running of the bulls at Plaza Consistorial on July 5, 2018 in Pamplona, Spain. Animal rights organization the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis organized a performance to call for a San Fermin festival with no blood and the abolition of bullfightings. Protesters wearing masks depicting bulls hold red smoke flares and placards reading messages against bullfighting in different languages. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Pro-animal rights activists protest against bullfighting and bull-running during a demonstration called by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis pro-animal groups on the eve of the San Fermin festivities in the Northern Spanish city of Pamplona on July 5, 2018. - The San Fermin festival is a symbol of Spanish culture that attracts thousands of tourist to watch the bull-runs despite heavy condemnation from animal rights groups. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)
PAMPLONA, SPAIN - JULY 05: Animal rights activists protest against bullfights ahead of San Fermin Running of the bulls at Plaza Consistorial on July 5, 2018 in Pamplona, Spain. Animal rights organization the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis organized a performance to call for a San Fermin festival with no blood and the abolition of bullfightings. Protesters wearing masks depicting bulls hold red smoke flares and placards reading messages against bullfighting in different languages. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
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"We want to let everyone know ... that all the bulls that run in the morning in the bull runs are then driven to the bull rings in the evening," AnimaNaturalis director Aida Gascon said, describing bullfighting as "torture" for the animals.

Protests are held each year ahead of the week-long festival, which begins on Friday.

Organizers have not commented directly on welfare issues cited by activists.

Pamplona's mayor Joseba Asiron said in a recent interview he could not imagine the festival without bulls, but suggested the actual fight might disappear in future.

Others in Pamplona also said they could not imagine the fiesta without the animals.

"Pamplona does not exist without bull runs and the bull runs don't exist without the bullfights," Pamplona bull enthusiast Antonio Imizcoz said.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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