PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) — Tens of thousands of people packed the town hall square in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona on Thursday to celebrate the traditional “chupinazo” firework blast that starts the San Fermín bull-running festival. Others were also present to protest against the event.

Demonstrators from PETA and other groups put on bull horns and draped themselves in red veils outside Pamplona’s city hall on Wednesday, ahead of the annual festival.

Nearly everyone, including many tourists, was dressed in the traditional garb of white trousers and shirt with red sash and neckerchief as they sang and shouted.

As the rocket was fired, many doused each other with red or sparkling wine.

The highlight of the nine-day festival is the early morning “encierros,” or bull runs, starting on Friday, when thousands of daredevils race to avoid six bulls charging along a winding cobblestoned route to the city’s bullring.

Spectators watch from balconies and wooden barricades set up along the course. The spectacle is televised nationally.

The rest of each day is for eating, drinking, dancing and cultural entertainment.

The festival was made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

The bulls used in the runs are killed by professional matadors in bullfights each afternoon in the city ring.

Protest organizers said this is torture for the bulls and not tradition.

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