LONDON — In a setback for animal rights campaigners, France’s top judges ruled on Friday that bullfighting does not contravene the Constitution.

José Tomás, a Spanish bullfighter, at France’s Nimes arena last Sunday.

The decision came in the same month as live coverage of bullfighting returned to television in Spain, the home of the corrida, after a six-year ban.

So is bullfighting making a comeback after decades of campaigns to abolish it, or are the latest developments a blip in the long-term decline of an activity that opponents say is animal torture?

Campaigners, including the veteran French actors Brigitte Bardot and Alain Delon, had called on the Constitutional Council in France to rule that laws banning mistreatment of animals should be applied across the country, ending the exceptions granted to regions of southern France where bullfighting is an old tradition.

The judges ruled, however, that such “uninterrupted local traditions” did not contravene the Constitution. The same went for in the French West Indies.

Despite the ruling, the animal rights lobby is confident bullfighting is on the way out. The last corrida in the Spanish region of Catalonia was held last year after the regional Parliament voted to ban bullfighting.

As my colleague Raphael Minder wrote at the time: “The number of bullfights held in Spain has fallen by just over a third since the onset of the financial crisis — to 1,724 last year from 2,622 in 2007.”

However, economic considerations can work both ways. Before the French ruling, business leaders in southern France interviewed by the Agence France Press agency said bullfighting was a significant contributor to the economies of cities like Nîmes and Arles, helping employment and tourism.

The general public, meanwhile, appears evenly divided on the issue.

On the eve of the ruling, a poll carried out on behalf of Crac, a European anti-bullfighting lobby group, indicated that 57 percent of the French wanted a ban, and another survey put the figure at 48 percent.

The Crac poll also suggested a political split on the issue, with 58 percent of left-leaning respondents favoring a ban, compared with 41 percent of right-leaning respondents.

However, Harlem Désir, newly nominated to lead the Socialist Party, was among politicians who opposed a blanket ban. “There are traditions and every region should be allowed to decide for itself,” he said.

Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, who was born in Spain, fueled the indignation of abolitionists by affirming that bullfighting was “a culture worth preserving.”

Politics has certainly played a part in developments in Spain. The broadcasting ban on live fights was lifted after the center-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy came to power last December following a campaign in which he pledged to support bullfighting and even try to get it reinstated in Catalonia.

“I’m in favor of freedom,” he said. “No one is forced to go to a bullfight and it should not be banned either.”

French abolitionists are now expected to consider taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights and to press for legislation in Parliament to outlaw bullfighting.

Franz-Olivier Giesbert, writing in France’s Le Point, accused the abolitionists of hypocrisy for focusing on bullfighting while ignoring animal cruelty in slaughterhouses.

Mr. Giesbert, who said he was not a bullfighting fan, wrote that those who brought the issue to the Council “totally represent the spirit of an age which accepts animal suffering as long as it’s not visible.” For diehard aficionados it is a question of freedom and tradition.

Víctor Manuel Mendes-Marinhais, a Portuguese bullfighter who made his name in Spain, said it was time to fight back against the abolitionists at a time when the corrida was facing unprecedented challenges.

Bullfighting was a cultural expression and “culture can’t be banned,” he said this month.

“We’ve passively allowed the anti-bullfight lobby to organize with the support of international animal rights organizations,” he said. “With our taxes, we aficionados are financing those who want to ban us.”

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Uploaded by  on 8 Mar 2009

Bullfighting is exposed in this graphic video expose’.

“Answers to the question below please!”

Are you with Víctor Mendes in believing that bullfighting is a centuries-old cultural tradition that should be preserved? Or do you think it’s a barbaric leftover from the Middle Ages that should be outlawed?