COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - The Maldives government rejected Sunday a ban on dancing in public between men and women called by its own Islamic Affairs ministry and pledged that the honeymoon hotspot would remain a beacon of tolerance.
Presidential spokesman Abbas Riza said a circular issued by the ministry prohibiting dancing between men and women was not enforceable as it had no basis in Maldivian law.
"There has not been and never will be a ban on dancing," Abbas told AFP in an e-mailed statement. "Under the constitution, no one could enforce or prohibit any freedom unless under a law."
"The Maldives will always be a very tolerant society (which is an) example to the world."
It was the first formal government reaction to the ministry circular to all state institutions and the media banning the holding of any mixed-gender dance events.
The ministry is headed by a member of the main Islamic Adhaalath Party, a coalition partner in President Mohamed Waheed's government which came to power after the controversial resignation of Mohamed Nasheed in February.
The ministry also ordered a ban on events where adolescent girls were required to dance, local media reports said, adding that the directives were intended for both state bodies and individual citizens.
"It is very clear that this is just an issuance of their view. Not legally binding on any sector of society," Abbas said.
The Maldives with a population of 330,000 Sunni Muslims is an Islamic republic known for its liberal lifestyle and upmarket tourism.
However authorities have been concerned about rising extremism in recent years and have resisted calls from extremists to shut down luxury tourist resorts, which serve alcohol and pork.
On Friday, hundreds of men and women demonstrated outside the United Nations building in the Maldivian capital Male over a film mocking Islam that has led to protests around the world, police said.
"About 100 to 400 people gathered outside the UN building during a two-hour period... and dispersed peacefully," police spokesman Hassan Haneef told AFP.
The Maldivian government condemned the burning of a US flag outside the UN compound and said the demonstration had been backed by opposition groups.
"The government urge all opposition groups to adhere to the teachings of Prophet which is all about tolerance and co-existence," Abbas said.
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