A ban on luxury spas at hotels and massage parlors in the Maldives was lifted Wednesday -- a week after it was imposed as part of an effort to curb perceived vice -- following pressure from the country's key tourism industry.
"We have lifted the ban and all the services will be available for tourists," President Nasheed told Reuters by telephone from the Maldives capital Male. "We wanted to give confidence to tourists."
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 locals in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation of more than 1,200 atolls home to a population of 400,000.
But former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said the Progressive Party of the Maldives had not asked for the ban. He claimed it was really aimed at leisure businesses owned by some opposition members.
The ban badly affected the tourism industry in the Indian Ocean island nation where pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters attract more than 800,000 tourists annually, including honeymooners and celebrities from around the world.
Call to ban Israel flights
The country's Supreme Court is due to make decision on whether they spas and parlors violate Islam.
Protesters have also demanded that authorities halt the sale of alcohol on islands inhabited by local people, stop plans to allow direct flights from Israel, and demolish statues given by other countries to commemorate a South Asian summit in November which they saw as idols.
"To be racist in any way is detrimental to the tourism industry," Nasheed said of the call to halt Israeli flights. "This is not the way to go forward."
Debates on religious issues have intensified since a group vandalized a statue given by Pakistan bearing the image of Buddha. In November a protest followed a call by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, for the Maldives to end the flogging of women found to have had sex outside marriage.
Nasheed has said he stands for a brand of moderate Islam traditionally practiced in the country and that it is vital to preserve tourism.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.