Running of the bulls kicks off in Pamplona's San Fermin festival, no gorings reported

PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of daredevils dashed through the narrow streets of Pamplona on Wednesday for a goring-free first bull run of this year's San Fermin fiesta.

The thrillseekers raced to keep ahead of six fighting bulls and six bell-tinkling steers tasked with trying to keep the beasts together along the 930-yard (850-meter) course from a holding pen to the northern town's bull ring.

Several of the runners were knocked to the ground and some were trampled on by the animals but there no gorings.

Red Cross workers told National Spanish Television there were no serious injuries.

The 8 a.m. run — the highlight of the festival, comes after a full day and night of hard partying.

Dozens of runners, dressed in the festival's traditional white shirts and pants with red sashes, sang a chant to a statue of San Fermin at the start of the route seconds before a firecracker rocket blast signaled the release of the bulls from the pen.

The run, broadcast live on national television, lasted just under 2 1/2 minutes, a relatively fast sprint that saw the bulls staying together and paying little attention to the runners.

After the run, people pack the bull ring to chase and taunt young calves while others resume partying around the town.

The festival, which began Tuesday, features eight bull runs, and John Lawlor, 25, was trying to decide which day he would pick to run in front of the bulls for his first time. He insisted his dash would be short.

"I have a bladder condition," the British college student joked as he swilled yet another can of beer on the eve of the run. "Have to stop frequently."

Tens of thousands of Spaniards and foreigners jammed a historic Pamplona plaza Tuesday at noon to start the bash, spraying each other with wine after the traditional shout from the city hall balcony of "Viva San Fermin!" followed seconds later by the firing of the firecracker known as the chupinazo.

The rocket was the signal to the revelers to erupt into the party mode that dominates Spain through August. Crowds sang and whooped while drenching each other with sangria, cheap wine and champagne.

The tourist count is down in Pamplona this year and merchants are complaining of low sales as Spain struggles with the European debt crisis and 20 percent unemployment. But David Marcilla said he didn't care after a woman drenched him with a bucket of water from her terrace in a third-floor apartment.

"There's a crisis in Spain, but there isn't today in Pamplona and everyone is partying," said Marcilla, 16, his white shirt already stained pink by wine.

The party's start was marred when Basque separatists prohibited from displaying their flag on a huge stage raised one into the air from the crowd and unfurled a banner demanding that terrorists convicted of bombings and killings be moved to prisons closer to their relatives.

Police intervened, beating people with batons, and fist fights also broke out between supporters of the ETA Basque separatist group and Spaniards opposed to the Basque independence movement.

Some hurled bottles of beer and champagne at officers, but ended up hitting people in the crowd instead, witnesses said.

An Associated Press reporter saw police removing the Basque flag from the plaza, and four officers carried out one man who appeared to be injured or unconscious.

Police at the scene declined comment, and Pamplona police spokesman Antonio Iberni said he was unaware of any disturbances or injuries.

But the party resumed quickly after the melee, with television images showing masses of red and white dressed partiers swaying back and forth in the square and roaring "San Fermin!" and "Ole!"

"It's out of control, you can spray everyone with wine and drink on the street at the best party in the world," said Ben Edmunds, a 27-year-old plumber from Australia, as he squirted cheap wine on dozens around him.

The bulls that ran Wednesday morning will be killed in the evening in the bull ring, and their meat gets served up in Pamplona's restaurants.

Dozens are injured each year in the morning runs. Most get hurt after falling, but some are gored and trampled by the beasts. Last year's festival saw the first fatal goring in nearly 15 years.


Associated Press writers Ciaran Giles and Victor Caivano contributed from Madrid and Pamplona.