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Spain's tomato war begins amid controversy

AAP logoAAP 31/08/2016

A Spanish town launched its famous tomato war or Tomatina festival with thousands of revellers drenched each other with hand-launched vegetable weapons.

Up to 26,000 participants and local villagers crammed into Bunol, a small town just west of the coastal city of Valencia, which ordinarily has a population of only 9000, the event's website said.

This year Bunol has set strict guidelines against both gender violence and homophobia by applying a "zero tolerance" response, according to the Mayor, Rafael Perez.

Some controversy has reigned, however, as the left-leaning local government handed the event's organisation to a company that restricted participants by selling tickets.

The town hall argued that the chaos caused in 2012, when 45,000 participants took part, left a costly mess in its wake.

The conservative opposition denounced the giving of the tomato fight's organisation to a private company and asked Spain's anti-corruption prosecutor to investigate.

Still the battle raged, as more than 140 metric tons of tomatoes were delivered by trucks, 10,000 kilograms more than in 2015.

The rules for the battle are simple: participants must only throw squashed tomatoes, and no other projectiles.

The fiesta began with a firework rocket launched from the main square, followed by a large pole covered in soap with an Iberian ham placed at the top.

Once the first participant reaches the top and grabs the ham, the tomato battle is launched.

Dressed in old clothes and protected with hats and diving goggles, vegetable-wielding participants shoot in all directions.

The red fruit began flying in a massive cross-fire that soon flooded Bunol's streets, turning them into a slippery sea of red and soaking and dyeing red its thousands of battlers.

Many revellers got carried away and ended up scrubbing their bodies with the tomato paste or tried to swim in it.

After about an hour, another rocket went up and tomato-time was over.

Now it was the turn of the residents watching the spectacle: Down came a deluge of water, poured from the town's balconies and windows, to clean the bodies and cool the most combative spirits.

The United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, the United States and Russia have all sent a legion of enthusiastic tomato launchers to the fiesta that was declared of International Tourist Interest back in 2002.

Though its origins are unclear, many historians believe it started in 1945, when angry locals threw tomatoes during a patron saint festivities parade because they were not allowed to participate.

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