Concern over Maldives spa 'prostitution' closures

Aeroplane lands at Male airport The Maldives is one of Asia's top tourist destinations

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Tourism operators in the Maldives have expressed concern over a government order to shut down all spas and health centres in resorts.

The ban followed allegations by an opposition Islamist party that spas were being used for prostitution.

Tourism is a key foreign exchange earner for the Maldives.

The islands are a popular destination for wealthy honeymooners and celebrities where luxury rooms can cost up to $12,000 (£7,748) a day.

The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry said the ban would harm the economy. It has appealed for a resolution of the issue.

The tourism ministry on Thursday instructed all resort hotels across the hundreds of islands that make up the Maldives to shut down spas and health centres offering beauty treatments and massages with immediate effect.

Last week the opposition Adhaalath party, a conservative religious movement, staged a protest in the capital Male against such spas, arguing that they were being used as brothels.

"An Islamic party has been agitating against spas hoping to embarrass the government," a senior government figure told the AFP news agency.

So far this year the Indian Ocean country has received more than 850,000 tourists attracted to its turquoise blue lagoons and spectacular corals with multi-coloured fish.

Last week President Mohamed Nasheed called for a "tolerant" form of Islam in the country amid growing concern about the influence of hardline Islamic parties.

Industry sources say that they expect the government eventually to revoke the decision on spas because of the huge revenue earned from the business.

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