Hard-hit Spanish town charges fees for tomato fight

Hard-hit Spanish town charges fees for tomato fight

MADRID - Facing a squished budget, the town hosting Spain's annual tomato-throwing festival, La Tomatina, on Wednesday is charging a fee for the first time.

Some 20,000 people from across the world - mostly Australians, Japanese and Britons - will pack the eastern town of Bunol, many wearing goggles to protect their eyes from the stinging juice, before launching into a gigantic one-hour food fight.

This year, for the first time, they are paying a minimum of 10 euros (S$17.20) for the privilege of pelting each other with tomatoes in streets that end up flooded in red juice.

The price rises to 750 euros if you want to get up on one of the six trucks that will bring in a record 130 tonnes of tomatoes.

Some 5,000 free tickets have been set aside for Bunol residents.

Organisers have cut the number of participants by half citing safety concerns over the size of crowds.

This year, the festival will count on 180 safety officials, 50 private security as well as police and organizers. Emergency services will have nine ambulances, and several helicopters.

"This is the first year we are charging for access to this popular festival due the need to limit the crowd for safety reasons," Bunol town hall said in a statement.

"We have had a problem for the past eight or 10 years: the Tomatina is not controlled, we don't know how many people are going to come," Bunol Mayor Joaquin Masmano Palmer told Spanish media.

But the town also says organising the food fight represents a "heavy cost" for public finances.

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