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Singapore gay party to be held in Phuket (Bangkok Post)
8 Jun, 2005

Ban forces festival to switch venues

One of Asia's most popular international gay and lesbian festivals will be moved from Singapore to Phuket this year after the Singapore police turned down an application for a permit to stage the party, organisers said yesterday.

A gay website which had organised the festival in Singapore since 2001, , said the police earlier this month rejected its application for a permit because it would be ''contrary to public interest''.

The event will now be held from Nov 4-6 on Phuket, which is still struggling to bring back tourists in the wake of the devastation of the Dec 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Held on Singapore's Sentosa island yearly to coincide with Singapore's National Day in August, the party had been increasingly attracting thousands of participants from around the world since it was first staged.

It attracted 8,000 revellers in 2004 of which 40% were international visitors, Fridae.com said in a statement.

''We are disappointed that the authorities have deemed a National Day celebration by Singapore's gay citizens as being `contrary to public interest,' when it had previously been approved four years without incident,'' said Fridae.com chief executive Stuart Koe.

''This is a direct contradiction to previous calls for embracing of diversity,'' he said.

The police ban came three months after Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan said the festival may be behind a sharp rise in the number of new HIV infections in Singapore.

Mr Balaji told parliament in March he based his statement on the opinion of an unnamed medical expert.

''An epidemiologist has suggested that this may be linked to the annual predominantly gay party in Sentosa, the Nation party, which allows gays from high prevalence societies to fraternise with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community.

''However, this is an hypothesis and more research needs to be done by the experts,'' the minister said.

A record 311 people in Singapore had contracted HIV _ the virus that causes Aids last year _ up 28% from 2003.

Mr Balaji said 90% of the people who contracted the virus last year were men, with a third of them gay.

There are now more than 2,000 HIV or Aids confirmed patients in Singapore.

Fridae.com, which bills itself as Asia's largest website for gays, angrily rejected Balaji's comments.

Tourism operators in Phuket welcome the planned change of venue.

Phanu Maswongsa, vice chairman of Phuket Tourism Business Association, said the gay festival would be good for Phuket tourism.

''We should not look at them as gays.

They are tourists just like any other tourist,'' Mr Phanu said.

''If we limit their right, soon nobody would want to visit Phuket.

''The festival should help boost room occupancy, which has fallen to only 15%, he said.

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