SPAs to close and alcohol to be banned in Maldives? (UPDATE)

Maldives ordered hundreds of its luxury resorts to close their spas nearly a week after a protest led by opposition parties demanding a halt to "anti-Islamic" activities, the government said on Friday.

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 Ministry of Tourism had notified the resorts on Thursday but hasn’t confirmed if the spas have been actually closed. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Thousands 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.

The protesters also want authorities to stop the sale of alcohol in the islands, shut down brothels operating in the guise of massage parlors and demolish monuments gifted by other countries marking a South Asian summit last month because they see them as idols. They also wanted to halt a plan to allow direct flights to Israel.

Debates on religious issues have emerged since a group vandalized a monument gifted by Pakistan marking a South Asian summit last month with the image of Buddha. Buddhism was part of the present Islamic republic’s history. 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.

UPDATE 05/01/12

A ban on luxury spas at hotels and massage parlors in the Maldives was lifted on Wednesday under pressure from the country’s key tourism industry a week after it was imposed as part of an effort to curb perceived vice. “We have lifted the ban, and all the services will available for tourists,” President Mohamed Nasheed told Reuters by telephone from the capital, Male. “We wanted to give confidence to tourists.” Mr. Nasheed said he ordered the ban in response to calls by the main opposition party, which claimed the spas and parlors were fronts for prostitution and led to the spread of drugs and alcohol to local residents in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation. But the opposition coalition said it had never asked for the ban.