Friday, October 29, 2010

Tourists conned by Maldives marriage officiator

Two Swiss tourists who chose the Maldives' white-sand beaches as the setting to renew their marriage vows were instead mocked by the officiator, who chanted abuse and curses in the local language at the unsuspecting couple.

The ceremony, posted on YouTube with English subtitles translating the abuse, has embarrassed the Maldives, and President Mohammed Nasheed condemned it as "absolutely disgraceful." Police arrested the celebrant and a helper — an apparent damage-control bid for the country whose economy is driven by tourism.

Police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam told The Associated Press on Friday that the two men under arrest were hotel employees.

The government identified the couple as Swiss nationals but did not name them.

The video, posted Sunday, shows the woman in a white dress and the man wearing a white shirt and khaki trousers, standing with their palms facing upward around a table with two rings in coconut shells. Two witnesses and the celebrant are also present, all of them in a palm-leaf enclosure.

The officiator begins chanting in the Dhivehi language that "under penal code clause seven, forbidden fornication is now legal," and goes on to insult the couple, including calling them "swine." The whole time he maintains a prayer-like, chanting tone, bowing his head and gently rocking forward and back.

"Most of the children you get will have spots on their skin. Because of these spots your children will be considered illegitimate children," he says.

Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed apologized to the couple and said diplomats have been asked to meet them.

"The Maldives is grateful that the couple in question chose to renew their vows in one of our resorts. ... Because of the disrespectful and unacceptable actions of a few individuals, we have let them down," Shaheed said in his statement.

The ministry will write to the Swiss government to express its regret as well, Shaheed said.

The country's Tourism Ministry said in a statement that it is working with the resort to compensate the couple for the distress caused by the incident. It also promised tough action against the offenders.

"Episodes such as that captured on video have no place in the Maldives and are not in any way representative of the holiday experience enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year," the ministry said.

The Maldives is an Indian Ocean archipelago of 350,000 people chosen by many tourists for weddings and honeymoons.

Source: AP

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