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Running of the Bulls festival kicks off in Spain

A reveler dances after the launch of the chupinazo rocket to celebrate the official opening of the 2017 San Fermín Fiesta in Pamplona, Spain, on July 6. (Photo: Alvaro Barrientos/AP)

Running of the Bulls festival kicks off in Spain

A wine-soaked sea of revellers dressed in red and white packed into a Pamplona square on Thursday to kick off Spain’s most famous street party, the San Fermín bull-running festival.

At noon, a shout of “Viva San Fermín!” from the balcony of city hall and the lighting of a firework rocket known as the chupinazo gave the official start to nine days of bedlam.

“It’s the best — there are no words to explain this,” Paula Remirez, one of two volunteers from local charity DYA Navarra who were elected to ignite the chupinazo this year, told television station TVE.

Fun-seekers from around the world squeezed into the square, dressed in traditional white outfits and red neck scarves. They cheered, danced and sprayed each other with sangria and cheap wine, turning white shirts to pink, and passed large yellow inflatable balls over their heads as scores looked down from apartment balconies.

Pamplona has stepped up its campaign against sexual assault at the festival after an 18-year-old woman was allegedly raped last year by five men from Seville, who also recorded the attack. The men, who are in custody awaiting trial, include a recent graduate of Spain’s Guardia Civil police force, as well as a member of the armed forces.

Municipal officials have plastered the city with signs showing an open hand with the slogan: “Pamplona free of sexual aggressions.” “When a woman says no, it is no.When a woman is paralyzed and does not say anything, it is no,” Laura Berro, the Pamplona city councilor in charge of equality issues, told TVE.

The festival, immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises,” dates back to medieval times and features religious processions, folk dancing, concerts and round-the-clock drinking. But the highlight is a bracing daily test of courage against a thundering pack of half-ton fighting bulls through the city’s cobbled streets.

Each day at 8 a.m., hundreds of people race with six bulls, charging along a winding, half-mile-plus course through narrow streets to the city’s bullring, where the animals are killed in a bullfight, or corrida.

The bravest — or most foolhardy — runners get as close as possible to the tips of the bulls’ horns while trying to avoid being gored. The first bull run, which traditionally draws the largest number of participants, is on Friday. (AFP)

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