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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 10:37 GMT
Pakistan province kite-flying ban
One of the kites being prepared before the start of the Basant festival
The kite-flying can get very competitive during Basant
The Pakistani province of Punjab has banned the flying of kites ahead of a traditional festival marking the advent of spring.

The ban follows a number of deaths in recent days, mostly in the provincial capital Lahore, caused by glass-coated or metal kite-strings.

Families of the victims protested last week, demanding that a Supreme Court ban on the sport be re-enforced.

The spring festival known as Basant is hugely popular across Punjab.

"We cannot allow people to play with the lives of ordinary citizens in the name of sport," a statement issued from the Punjab chief minister's office said.

Public outcry

Pakistan's Supreme Court had banned the activity last year following public outcry at the deaths caused by kite strings.

I have already invested all my money in making kites and strings but now I cannot sell them
Karam Illahi
Kite maker

Strings made of thin metal wire or coated with glass were outlawed last year but the ban was never enforced in view of their popularity with kite flying enthusiasts.

Metal or glass coated strings help cut the strings of rival kites - the main objective of the sport.

But they can catch unsuspecting bikers across the throat, at times with fatal consequences.

Metal kites can also cause short-circuits in overhead power cables, leading to heavy losses for electricity utilities.

The Supreme Court ban was lifted for 15 days starting 15 February on popular demand.

The relaxation was later extended to 15 March to allow the people to observe Basant.

Delayed

The festival, praised by President Pervez Musharraf who often flies down to Lahore to participate, is traditionally held in the second week of February.

It was delayed this year because of the Supreme Court ban.

Besides enthusiasts, thousands involved in the kite trade rallied for a temporary lifting of the ban to allow the festival.

Pakistanis on rooftops watch kites flying over Lahore
Kite-flying is a popular pastime during Basant

The court relented in February this year but on the condition that the ban would automatically be reinforced in the event of any more deaths.

Several people were reported killed over the past two weeks but the court did not intervene in view of the festival's popularity.

The country's religious parties, traditionally against the festival for its supposedly Hindu origin, then started demanding that the ban be brought back.

They accused the Punjab government of allowing the sport on the orders of President Musharraf.

Blasphemy

A new twist was added to their protest this year when some members of the hardline Muslim Jamaat-e-Islami party declared that the festival was initiated in the memory of a Hindu who was hanged for blaspheming against the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Fearing that the protests could lead to a breakdown in law and order, the Punjab government reimposed the ban.

"They have banned it just before the festival weekend," says Karam Illahi, a kite manufacturer in Lahore.

"I have already invested all my money in making kites and strings but now I cannot sell them.

"Why couldn't the government have made up its mind earlier," he says.

Over the years, the Basant festival has drawn thousands of revellers to Lahore from all over the world.

Even Indian movie stars had started participating in the festival which peaks with an all-night flood-lit kite flying marathon on the eve of the festival.


SEE ALSO:
Kite deaths mar Pakistan festival
15 Feb 04 |  South Asia
Kite deaths spark ban in Lahore
25 Jun 03 |  South Asia
Lahore kite festival takes off
11 Feb 03 |  South Asia
India celebrates kite flying
14 Jan 03 |  South Asia


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