Daredevils flock to Spanish festival to run with bulls


Thousands have descended on the Spanish town of Pamplona as the world-famous famous running of the bulls festival of San Fermin began officially on Thursday.

The city's main square was filled to the brim as the nine-day event was launched with the firing of a traditional 'txupinazo' rocket into the sky. Last year, organizers estimated the festival drew 1.5 million visitors to the north-eastern city which has a normal population of around 200,000.

This event, famously depicted by Ernest Hemmingway in the classic novel The Sun Also Rises, transforms Pamplona into a delirious, non-stop party, underpinned by a strong sense of mortality.

This mortality is often encountered in the traditional bull-running event which has claimed at least 16 lives in the festival's recorded history. The last death occurred in 2009 when a Spaniard was fatally gored.

Although the red-kerchief dotted festivities are well underway, with music and other events, those looking for a sense of danger will have to wait until Friday morning when the first bull run -- or corrida -- takes place.

The first bulls to run come from a farm called Cebada Gago and are notoriously dangerous. Last year these bulls wreaked havoc which saw seven people gored -- one of the most devastating incidents in the festival's history.

Organizers warn that Friday is a "bad day to participate in the bull run if you don't have a clue".

Besides the obvious risks, the festival has become a lightning rod for other controversies. On Wednesday, dozens of topless protestors covered themselves in artificial blood to demonstrate against animal abuse.

Last year's events were also tainted by sexual violence; several men were arrested on charges relating to violent attacks, including rape.

In turn, organizers are focusing on making this year's event safe for women, and are promoting a "fiesta without any sexual harassment".

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