The brutal killing of a bull in a popular festival in a town in northern Colombia has sparked indignation and calls for a public debate on traditions involving animal cruelty.

Animal rights activists and even some government officials are demanding legal action after a video appeared in Colombia showing dozens of people in Turbaco chasing the bull and killing it with machetes, rocks, knives and kicks. The killing took place during a "corraleja," or amateur bullfighting event held in some towns in the South American country.

Public Defender Jorge Otarola called the images "Dante-esque, painful and inhumane."

"The state's intervention is needed because, even though traditions should be respected, they must be updated to reduce the suffering of animals," he told The Associated Press.

The Ministry of Culture released a statement calling for severe punishments for the "barbaric" incident and demanding a public debate about whether such festivals should be allowed to continue. The justice ministry said it was starting an investigation to identify those responsible.

Turbaco Mayor Myron Martinez defended the festival, saying it was a local tradition.

"In 'corraleja' festivals there are always injuries, there are always animals beaten and horses killed. These are the kinds of incidents that form part of the traditions and customs of such festivals," Martinez said.

The bull's death has reopened the debate over bullfighting in Colombia. In the capital, Bogota, bullfighting has been banned, while such events remain popular in other parts of the country. In "corralejas" the general public is allowed into the ring to spontaneously "fight" the bull.