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Maldives Bows to Protests, Bans Spas

Published: 31/12/2011 01:33:48 PM GMT
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COLOMBO - Bowing to protests pressures, the Maldives has ordered hundreds of luxury hotels to close their spas, a decision expected to affect tourism i (more)

COLOMBO - Bowing to protests pressures, the Maldives has ordered hundreds of luxury hotels to close their spas, a decision expected to affect tourism industry which forms a vital foreign exchange source for the Indian Ocean country.

"An Islamic party has been agitating against spas hoping to embarrass the government," a senior government figure told Agence France Presse (AFP) by telephone asking not to be named.

The official confirmed Thursday's ministry order following the protests that erupted in the country last Friday.

Answering a protest call by the opposition Adhaalat, or Justice, Party and several other groups, more than 3,000 people accused President Mohammed Nasheed's government of compromising principles of Islam and call for Islamic law.   

The government bowed to the pressure less than a week after President Nasheed called for a "tolerant" form of Islam in his nation.

The Maldives is a cluster of 1,200 islands renowned for its luxury resorts.

The tourism industry is a vital foreign exchange earner and employer in the Maldives, a popular high-end destination for honeymooners and celebrities where luxury rooms can cost up to $12,000 a day.

The Indian Ocean country this year received more than 850,000 tourists, drawn to its secluded islands known for turquoise blue lagoons, as well as corals and reefs filled with multi-colored fish.

The Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of the cultures reflecting the peoples who settled on the islands, probably from southern India and Sri Lanka.

According to CIA factbook, a 2011 July census put the number of its people at 394,999.

Islam is the official religion of the country with almost 100 percent of its residents practicing Muslims.

Economic Concerns

Despite the Islamic republic's reputation as a holiday paradise, there is a growing concern about the effect of the new law on Maldives economy.

These concerns followed major protests that rocked the small country demanding application of Islamic law.

Over the past few weeks, calls have been rising in the country demanding demolishing monuments gifted by Pakistan because they see them as idols.

Similar protests emerged last month following calls by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay to end the practice of flogging women committed of having extra-marital sex.

The UN rights chief's call has sparked protests in the island nation, with some protestors calling for Pillary's arrest.

In 2010, a marriage celebrant was filmed abusing a Western couple as "swine" and "infidels", the accident which raised huge furor worldwide.

Considering the huge revenue earned from the business, tourism industry sources said they expected the government to revoke the decision on spas soon.

The deluxe Huvafen Fushi, where an ocean view room can cost $10,440 per night, told AFP Friday that their spa was open on Friday and they were accepting bookings for the New Year.

The hotel boasts the world's first underwater spa treatment rooms where guests have a close up view of marine life.

"We have heard of this report, but our spa is open," a Huvafen Fushi manager said.

Reproduced with permission from