No Kites Fly: Basant Canceled
Jordan Yerman | April 13, 2008 at 08:32 amby
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The Basant festival brings a springtime buzz to eastern Pakistan and its regional capital, Lahore. Officials usually relax a ban on the pastime -- imposed to prevent abandoned strings that are often covered with crushed glass from slitting people's throats.
But the festival has been cancelled this year amid tensions spawned by terrorist attacks and the country's rocky return to democracy after years of military rule.
Sohail Janjua, a city government spokesperson, said the festival was first postponed due to national mourning for assassinated ex-leader Benazir Bhutto, then because of February 18 parliamentary elections.
In the past, the city's youth have sent thousands of brightly coloured kites into the sky during the festival, held on a weekend in February or March. Basant means "yellow" in Hindi, a reference to the mustard flowers that blossom in the region in early spring.
Crowds of Lahoris typically clamber on to rooftops to watch. Well-heeled guests from around the country and beyond pack city hotels for a few days of late-night festivities.
The celebration has been threatened before by authorities concerned about public safety and religious conservatives who oppose the festival because it is a reminder of Pakistan's pre-Islamic past and encourages drinking and dancing.
Dedicated kite flyers often engage in duels and use strings made of wire or coated with crushed glass in an attempt to cut down a rival, often after placing bets on the outcome.
Authorities tried to ban kite-flying in 2006 after a string of people were killed by sharpened strings, falls from rooftops or celebratory gunfire.
Last year, authorities allowed only smaller kites with normal strings, but at least 10 people still were fatally slashed. Police detained hundreds in a failed attempt to impose the restrictions.
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