| RABAT, June 30
RABAT, June 30 Organisers of an all-gay cruise
on Saturday blamed Moroccan officials for the cancellation of
what would have been the first visit of its kind to a Muslim
country, but the tourism minister denied the ship was banned and
said its passengers were welcome.
Cruise liner Holland America Line and trip organiser RSVP
Vacations told the 2,100 holiday-makers aboard the MS Nieuw
Amsterdam ship that the July 1 visit to Casablanca had been
"Our port agent in Casablanca has advised us that
authorities in Morocco have -- despite previous confirmations --
now denied our scheduled visit," the two companies said in a
letter tweeted to news organizations by passengers of the ship.
"For all of us, this is a very disappointing development,"
they added. "It was ultimately the decision by local authorities
in Morocco that has necessitated us to adjust our plans."
The Casablanca visit was supposed to be the first and the
only non-European leg of a week-long journey for the cruise
liner, which sailed from Barcelona on Friday with mostly
American and European passengers.
Morocco's Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said no official
decision had been made to prevent the ship from stopping in
"We don't ban cruise ships here and we never ask our
visitors about their sexual preferences," he told Reuters. Asked
if the MS Nieuw Amsterdam could still visit Morocco, he said:
"They can if the organisers want to".
Haddad is from the secular Popular Movement Party, a junior
partner in Morocco's ruling coalition led by moderate Islamists
of the Justice and Development Party (PJD).
PJD came to power in December, riding a regional wave of
support for Islamist movements amid Arab revolts but saying it
would not impose a strict moral code. The tourism sector
accounts for 10 percent of Morocco's GDP and 450,000 jobs.
The cruise ship's visit had caught the attention of local
media in this generally conservative society where the law deems
same-gender sexual relationships "lewd or unnatural" and
punishes them with six months to three years in jail. No
political parties call for ending laws against homosexuality.
Morocco has an Islamic-inspired penal code that bans sex
outside marriage and Moroccans buying alcohol, but authorities
favour a tolerant brand of Islam in which young urban couples
display affection in the street and locals often outnumber
tourists in bars and night clubs.
That has partly helped Morocco to attract large numbers of
tourists, especially from western Europe, providing much-needed
foreign currency and jobs to an economy that lacks the oil
riches of neighbouring states.
(Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Roger Atwood)