Nation & World

September 11, 2006 12:00 AM

Iranians seek to create a tourist heaven on Persian Gulf island

Travel brochures advertise this Iranian island as the pearl of the Persian Gulf. Girls are allowed to ride bikes and smoke water pipes in public. Boys can wear arm-baring muscle shirts and sport the kinds of long hairstyles that in Tehran would draw rebukes from religious authorities. Lovers hold hands as they stroll the islands pristine beaches at sunset. When the sea breeze blows mandatory head scarves off, a few daring Iranian women dont bother to put them back on. Kish Island has long been a serene getaway from the strict Shiite Islamic rules that govern the rest of Iran. For decades, thousands of Iranian families and a stream of intrepid foreigners have flocked to this beautiful island for duty-free shopping and a break from Irans polluted, stifling big cities. But as the country struggles with an image shaped by its anti-American leadership and the unfolding nuclear crisis, tourist-dependent islanders worry that not even Kishs relaxed visa requirements and the absence of morality police will be enough to lure visitors to one of the Islamic Republics best-kept secrets.

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