Pakistan imposes kite flying ban

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – The death of a 4-year-old boy whose throat was slit by a low-flying kite string coated with glass has prompted authorities to forbid kite-flying in eastern Pakistan.

Shayan Ahmad became the seventh kite-string victim in the nation’s cultural capital, Lahore, in the past two weeks, prompting the Punjab provincial government to announce the ban late Thursday.

The edict came as the city prepared for the weekend festival of Basant, which features residents celebrating spring’s arrival by flying thousands of colorful kites. Some reinforce the strings with wire or ground glass for dueling other kites and betting on who wins. When strings cross in the congested sky, the winner cuts loose his opponent’s kite.

Shayan was sitting on the fuel tank of his father’s bike Tuesday as they rode together through the upscale Gulberg neighborhood. The kite string hit Shayan in the throat and the bleeding boy collapsed in his father’s lap. He died before they could reach a hospital.

His death riveted the city’s attention and became a catalyst for anger over dangerous kites. Outraged citizens staged small protests and burned piles of kites.

“I saw my son dying helplessly,” said Shayan’s father, Mohammed Rizwan. “My son’s death has ruined my life.”

The seven victims, including another child, all were fatally injured as they rode on motorcycles.

Kite duels with glass-covered strings feature prominently in the best-selling novel “The Kite Runner,” which recounts the narrator’s childhood in neighboring Afghanistan.

Police have registered a murder case against the unidentified person whose kite killed Shayan but apparently have no leads.

Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the top elected official in Punjab, said after a meeting with Rizwan that kites would be banned for an indefinite period.

A similar ban was ordered by the Lahore High Court two years ago after a series of kite accidents, despite opposition from kite manufacturers who claimed that thousands of people could lose their jobs. The ruling was upheld in late 2005 by the Supreme Court, to little effect.

At least 19 people died and 200 were injured before and during Basant last year.

Police are now vowing to enforce the ban strictly. They arrested 74 people Friday, including 22 shop owners, for selling or flying kites after the ban was announced, chief of police operations Amir Zulifquar said.

Police have arrested 1,100 people since March 5 for selling or manufacturing glass-coated or otherwise dangerous kite string, said Khwaja Khalid Farooq, a senior Lahore police superintendent.

Most Lahore residents welcomed the ban, although it will likely take some of the fun and color out of Basant, one of the city’s most popular festivals, due to start Saturday night.

People usually crowd streets, parks and roof tops to fly kites, listen to music and party. Hard-line Muslims, however, oppose it as a waste of money and consider it a Hindu festival. Basant means “yellow” in the Hindi language, and women often wear yellow dresses during the celebrations.

Lahore, a generally liberal Muslim city, was home to many Hindus before Pakistan’s partition from India in 1947.

Like many residents, Tufail Ahmad, 35, praised the government for the ban. “It should have been done much earlier,” he said.

University student Anis Ahmed said authorities were depriving people of a centuries-old sport and should have allowed kites in parks, instead of banning them completely.

AP-ES-03-10-06 1433EST

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