COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Bending to Islamists opposed to spas and massage parlors, Maldives' president on Friday ordered them closed, even those catering to tourists at exclusive resorts.
A statement from the president's office said "the government has decided to close massage parlors and spas in the Maldives, following an opposition-led religious protest last week calling for their closure."
An official from the president's office said the tourism ministry notified the resorts Thursday but hasn't confirmed if the spas have been closed.
The Indian Ocean archipelago with 300,000 people and 1,192 tiny coral islands is known for its exquisite resorts.
Some 3,000 people at last week's protest called on the government to halt what they called "anti-Islamic" activities. Sunni Islam is the official religion in the Maldives and practicing any other faith is forbidden.
Last week's protest was called by the opposition Adhaalat, or Justice, Party, and several other groups that accuse President Mohammed Nasheed's government of compromising principles of Islam and want strict Islamic law.
Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party also rallied supporters to defend a "moderate" stand.
Nasheed had earlier claimed that the real intention of the protesters is to introduce Islamic penalties such as stoning, amputations and executions, though the protesters have not specifically called for them.
Nasheed, speaking to his supporters, said the Maldives has followed a moderate form of Islam for centuries and he saw no reason why they should change.
The Islamist protesters also want authorities to:
- Stop the sale of alcohol in the islands;
- Demolish monuments gifted by other countries marking a South Asian summit last month because they see them as idols;
- Halt a plan to allow direct flights to Israel.
The protesters view spas and massage parlors as immoral and, in some cases, simply as fronts for prostitution.
Though the country does not allow stoning or executions, it is under scrutiny for its absence of religious freedom and for punishments such as public flogging.
An angry protest last month followed a call by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for the Maldives to end floggings of women being punished for adultery.
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