MADRID Spain's parliament voted on Tuesday to consider protecting bullfighting as a cultural asset, angering animal rights campaigners and authorities in two regions where the sport is banned.
Members of the ruling People's Party, which has an absolute majority in the parliament, voted to debate a petition signed by signed by 500,000 members of the public.
Under the proposal, bullfighting would be promoted and Spain would push to have it recognized by UNESCO as part of its heritage, joining world cultural symbols such as China's Dragon Boat Festival and the Castells human tower formations from the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia.
Bullfighting has gone on in Spain for centuries and its fans included the U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway and Spanish artist Picasso, who celebrated it in their works.
A positive vote could potentially help supporters of bullfighting overturn regional bans - in place in the Canary Islands since 1991 and in Catalonia since 2011.
Protecting bullfighting could also make it easier to gain state subsidizes to rear bulls and maintain bullrings.
The sport already receives significant subsidies in many regions and critics say it would not survive in some areas on ticket sales alone. Some regions have been forced to cut back subsidies in order to meet stringent deficit targets.
The wealthy Catalonia region banned the sport after accepting a people's petition at the Barcelona parliament, in what some people saw as an attempt to further distinguish the region culturally from the rest of Spain.
Catalonia's regional government has pledged to hold a referendum in 2014 on secession.
Esquerra Republicana, a leftist separatist party from Catalonia, said approving the petition was provocative.
"Never, ever, will we accept bullfighting in Catalonia," Alfred Bosch, the spokesman for the group in the Madrid parliament, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Sarah Morris; Editing by Alison Williams)