Maldives moves against veiled women, jihadis on TV

Male, Maldives - State-run television in the Maldives has been ordered not to employ women who cover their heads and to stop praising Palestinian suicide bombers, a government minister told AFP.

The measures are part of a package of restrictions designed to stem a feared spread of militant Islam that could damage the Indian Ocean archipelago's status as a top destination for rich tourists.

"We have instructed Television Maldives to stop hiring female anchors who wear headscarves and not show fully veiled women, even in news reports," Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said in an interview late Tuesday.

He said state-run television had also been ordered to no longer refer to Palestinian suicide bombers as "jihadis" -- or holy warriors -- and to cease glorifying "holy war".

"We are taking off panelists on programmes who are not moderate, going through scripts, checking terminology to make sure there is no language that contains extremist kinds of things," he said.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ordered a crackdown on radical Islam after a bomb attack in the capital Male on September 29 wounded a British honeymoon couple, eight Chinese and two Japanese tourists.

The Sunni Muslim nation of 330,000 people has traditionally been regarded as one of the most peaceful places in the world, building one of South Asia's most successful economies on its upmarket tourism.

"Tourism has since recovered. There was a slight dip after the blast. But we can't afford another blast, it will kill the industry," Nasheed said.

"We can't afford to ignore the rise of extremism in the country. We can't afford to look back thousands of years, or go back to that era," he added.

Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid also argued that covered-up women were a security risk.

"It's purely a security issue, people have a right to know the identity of those around them, especially when they enter public buildings, government offices," he said. "People are free to cover up elsewhere."

Other measures include cracking down on underground mosques and preventing firebrand preachers -- notably from Pakistan -- from working in the chain of 1,192 tiny islands.

But the opposition Islamic party, Adalaath, called the restrictions a disgrace.

"We have asked women who want to wear the veil not to obey the court ruling. Its a denial of their basic religious freedom, the right to seek justice," said Mohamed Didi, chairman of the Adalaath Party.

"The Maldives is one of the few 100 percent Muslim countries. Those who passed this law should be ashamed of themselves," he said.