Men-free tourism island planned

TEHRAN Thu Feb 22, 2007 9:18am EST

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran plans a female-only island to boost tourism in a northwest province, the Tehran-e Emrouz newspaper on Wednesday quoted a local official as saying.

It will be on the Urumiyeh lake in Western Azerbaijan province, a municipality official identified only as Aghai said.

Under Iran's strict Islamic law, mixing with men in public is forbidden. Strict sex segregation actually protects women rather than restricting their rights, officials argue.

"There will be no men on the Arezou (Wish) island. Public transport, restaurants and other facilities will be staffed only by women," Aghai said.

Parts of Iranian beaches are reserved for women, where they can remove their headscarves and wear swimming costumes. Women have forced their way into the national sports stadium, defying strict sex segregation. There are several parks for women only.

In public women have to cover their body in long loose coats and their hair with headscarves. The chador, literally meaning 'tent', an all-enveloping, usually black cloth is obligatory in some government offices.

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