Italy minister sparks heat over Palio race comment

Fri Aug 6, 2010 12:46pm EDT
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MILAN (Reuters Life!) - An Italian minister has stirred outcry by suggesting a review of the centuries old Palio bareback horse race around the Piazza del Campo in Siena.

Michela Vittoria Brambilla, an animal lover and tourism minister in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's divided conservative government, said on Thursday that it was time for Italy to review the race to prevent cruelty to horses.

"If Catalonia renounced to bullfighting, we can renounce some races or palios, not only the Siena race, which is the most famous," Brambilla was quoted as saying by Italian media on Thursday.

She later issued a statement saying she had not called for a ban, but her remarks irked her center-right coalition partners, already embroiled in weeks of political infighting.

"We will never abandon our years-old traditions," said Gianvittore Vaccari, a member of the traditionalist Northern League party and mayor of the northern city of Feltre, which hosts its own race.

Twice a year, Siena's horse race draws thousands of tourists to the shell-shaped piazza, where 10 jockeys in medieval costumes astride horses hurtle around treacherous corners in a bid to win the Palio. The next race will be run on August 16.

The mayor of Siena defended the city's reputation.

"The Palio applies to the letter the government's rules for animal protection," Mayor Maurizio Cenni told Il Corriere della Sera newspaper on Friday.

The Catalan parliament outlawed bullfighting in the region last month, after activists concerns about animal suffering.

(Reporting by Antonella Ciancio, Editing by Paul Casciato)

<p>Silvano Mulas (L) of Selva parish leads the pack of horses to win the Palio race in Siena July 2, 2010. REUTERS/Marco Bucco</p>