Pakistan Police Crack Down on Kite Flying

Skies normally alive with colorful kites to mark a spring festival were largely empty Sunday after police arrested 1,400 people over three days to enforce a ban imposed because of a series of fatal accidents.

The government of Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, banned kite flying during this weekend's annual Basant festival after seven people died from being slashed by kite strings reinforced with wire or glass fiber.

Fliers often strengthen their kite strings before dueling with opponents in a game that is won when one flier cuts another's kite string.

Police spokesman Malik Munir Ahmed said Sunday that at least 1,430 people had been detained since Friday, most for flying kites and others for firing celebratory gunshots into the air and playing loud music. Many face fines or jail terms of up to six months.

The mayor of Lahore, where about 800 people were arrested, said the ban had helped prevent deaths.

"Last year 19 people died on Basant day. No one has died this year," Mayor Mian Amir Mahmood said.

Some people defied the ban Sunday but the sprinkling of kites over Lahore was a small fraction of the thousands seen in previous years.

Police raided homes where kites were seen flying from backyards. Some kite fliers cut their strings as officers approached and denied they had violated the ban, witnesses said.

"We are making full efforts to implement the ban and our raiding teams are in the city," Lahore police chief Khawaja Khalid Farooq said.

The Basant festival has been celebrated in Lahore for centuries with kite flying and boisterous rooftop parties. Basant means "yellow" in the Hindi language, a reference to the fields of blooming yellow flowers that grace the area as spring approaches.