Hundreds of Pakistani youths flew kites from rooftops in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, celebrating an ancient colourful festival despite a ban imposed by authorities in 2007 following a spate of accidents. Enthusiasts have in the past used acid-soaked string and piano wire in kite-fighting battles, causing terrible injuries to people caught by tangles across roads-including slitting the throats of motorcyclists.

Victorious participants and their supporters firing into the air can also cause death or injury when the rounds fall back to the ground. The ban did not stop Friday’s celebration of Basant, a kite festival that marks the arrival of spring and the blustery winds it brings. “The festival isn’t worth a human life, but Pakistani youths don’t have too many options for entertainment,” said Raja Rameez, a 21-year-old pharmacist who invited dozens of friends to watch from his rooftop.

Youths fly kites on a rooftop during the Basant Kite Festival despite a ban imposed by authorities in 2007 following a spate of accidents, in Rawalpindi. — AFP photos

Hundreds of youths played cat and mouse with more than 1,500 police officers, who used binoculars and drones to try to spot the locations of the kite flyers. AFP saw officers baton charge groups of youngsters and bundle some into the back of packed paddy wagons. Police said at least 220 people were arrested; offenders can be fined up to 100,000 rupees (around $570). “It is quite challenging for us as people’s lives are at stake,” said Waseem Riaz, a senior superintendent of police.

The eastern city of Lahore used to be the main centre for the Basant festival, drawing thousands of local and foreign tourists, with railways running special trains and hotels packed. Until the ban, the event was generally a family affair, with girls traditionally wearing yellow to mark the occasion. Islamic fundamentalists also oppose Basant because of its Hindu or pagan origins. “This is not half of what it was used to be when we were young,” said Murad Alam, watching proceedings from his rooftop with his children. “I feel for my children... they have no entertainment opportunities in this country.”-— AFP