Spain's parliament will vote Tuesday on a petition demanding bullfighting be declared a key part of the country's cultural heritage, a year after the practice was banned in the independence-minded region of Catalonia.
The petition organised by the Catalan Bullfighting Federation signed by nearly 600,000 people states that "bullfighting belongs to Spain's global culture, and to the historical and cultural patrimony common to all Spaniards".
Approval of the petition would pave the way for the centuries-old tradition to be declared an "asset of cultural interest", which would give bullfighting greater legal and financial protection.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, which holds a majority in parliament following a landslide general election win in November 2011, backs the petition, virtually guaranteeing it will be passed.
The party hopes declaring bullfighting an cultural asset will lead to a reversal of bans on the practice in place in Catalonia and the Canary Islands.
"Our aim is not to impose anything, it is to try to reach agreements," Popular Party lawmaker Juan Manuel Albendea told AFP.
"This is not going against Catalonia, on the contrary. We want bullfighting to return to Catalonia with agreements, not under duress."
The effort to restore bullfighting in Catalonia will likely stoke tensions with the government of the wealthy northeastern region, which has promised to hold a referendum on independence from Spain next year.
Catalonia's regional parliament voted in July 2010 to ban the sport from January 2012 after animal rights groups managed to garner 180,000 signatures for a petition demanding a debate on the issue.
It was the first region in mainland Spain to ban the tradition, following a similar move by Spain's Canary Islands in 1991.
Critics say the move was as much about Catalonia -- which has its own distinct language and culture -- underlining its regional identity as an issue of animal rights.
"We will not surrender and we will fight to preserve a decision by the Catalan people that was adopted by their representatives", said the spokesman for the left-wing Catalan nationalist party Esquerra Republicana, Alfred Bosch.
"There is a nationalist Spanish dimension to this, of pride. Since the vote in the Catalan parliament there have been voices, especially in the Popular Party, which vowed to avenge it and now they are trying it," he told AFP.
Animal rights groups have also vowed to fight any move to declare bullfights a cultural asset.
"We are not going to remain with our arms crossed. The popular demand for the end of bullfights, and the approval of this petition, will only fuel protests in the entire country," said the director of the Spanish branch of animal rights group AnimaNaturalis, Aida Gascon.
Opinion polls show rising opposition to bullfighting throughout Spain, especially among the young, although bullfights remain a key feature of religious holidays and arenas are regularly filled to capacity for the spectacle.
The number of bullfights held each year though has declined in recent years as cash-strapped municipalities have had to slash funding for festivals that include bullfights.
The Popular Party, which defends a more centralised Spain, has taken other steps to protect bullfighting at a time of dwindling interest in the tradition which is a symbol of the country.
Last year a new board at public broadcaster RTVE appointed by the party revoked a six-year ban on broadcasting bullfights, which end with the death of the bull from a well-placed sword.
The broadcaster had stopped showing bullfights in 2006, blaming the high price of the broadcasting rights, a dwindling audience and the fact that they were violent acts that should not be shown when children are watching television.