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A ban on spas in the Maldives was lifted yesterday afternoon by the government while it waits for a court to decide whether they are legal under the country's constitution.
Speaking at a press conference held at Kurumba Maldives resort - the first to open in the archipelago in 1972 - the President said spas could continue to operate until the Supreme Court comes to a decision.
The President ordered all spas to close following a rally on December 23 by opposition parties, during which extreme Islamists had claimed the islands' massage and liquor parlours were a front for prostitution.
In an attempt to call their bluff, the President impose a ban which included hotel spas, some of which are owned by leaders of the opposition. The move threatened to damage the Maldives' £1bn a year tourism industry.
During the press conference, the President said he was confident all the institutions of state would realise the importance of placing national development first and would not act in a way that would damage the tourism industry.
"The President reasserted his view that the vast majority of Maldivians reject religious extremism and want to continue the moderate form of Islam the Maldives has followed for the past 800 years," said a statement from the Maldives government.
Since the government's ban on spas, the opposition parties stated they did not support a ban on spas nor wish to damage the tourism industry.
"We wanted to impress upon everyone where the opposition's demands were ultimately going to end," the President said on Wednesday.
The government's ultimatum "woke the nation from its slumber and sparked a healthy national debate about the future direction of the country", he said.
"The extremist demonstration on 23 December attracted a sizeable crowd. But their radical demands awoke the silent majority who categorically reject extremism."
Most resorts continued to operate spas during the ban.
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Resorts in the Maldives are fighting an order by the government to close their spas, claiming such a move threatens the island's £1bn a year tourism industry.
The president of the Indian Ocean islands announced over the weekend that all spas must be shut down following claims by Islamist opposition parties that massage parlours are a front for prostitution (see earlier story below).
However, the country's tourism association is taking the government to court to try to overturn the ban. In the meantime, it has applied for a temporary injunction to allow spas to continue to operate and hotel resort have reassured customers that their spas will remain open.
Many of the Maldives spa resorts are owned by members of opposition parties, who claim the government's decision to close them down is a deliberate attempt to damage their business.
They say they had called only for a ban on the island's liquor and massage clinics, not resort spas.
Exclusive resorts in the Maldives are fighting a ban on their luxury spas and health centres after the government shut them down.
The president of the Indian Ocean archipelago issued the decree on Saturday after Islamic opposition parties argued the spas were a front for prostitution.
'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,' President Mohamed Nasheed's office said in a statement.
But head of Maldives Association of Tourism Industry, Sim Ibrahim said the move threatened tourism which was crucial for the national economy.
He hoped the ban would be overturned.
On Monday the tourism industry filed two cases in the local civil courts, asking the judiciary to revoke the ban, claimed MATI lawyer Azima Shukoor.
The Maldives is home to more than 330,000 Sunni Muslims and has come under pressure from a minority of religious fundamentalists who are growing in influence.
Importation of alcohol is already severely prohibited in the Maldives and Islamists are now calling for a complete ban on alcohol and the sale of pork.
(news from Travelmole.com)