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Kaunas (Lithuania), July 8, 2018 (AFP) - One hundred hot air balloons floated over Lithuania's second city of Kaunas on Saturday to mark 100 years of the Baltic state's independence.

"The first hot air balloon festival was in 1988 during Soviet times when flying balloons was formally forbidden, but no one could keep us on the ground," organiser Gintaras Surkus, a pioneer of the activity in Lithuania, told AFP.

One balloon flew a 100-metre-long national flag, while others were in shapes including hearts and cats.

"Hot air balloons are associated with the idea of freedom," Lukas Mikelevic, a 23-year-old psychology student who is also a balloon and aeroplane pilot, told AFP before launching.

"So many balloons taking off from the city centre -- it's unheard of," he added.

Poles, Latvians, Estonians and Chinese enthusiasts also came to fly their balloons in Kaunas.

Until World War I, Lithuania was a province of the Russian empire, which sought to crush nationalism and even banned the Lithuanian alphabet.