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Birthday bash for
the late Freddie Mercury canceled in Zanzibar

Birthday bash for
the late Freddie Mercury canceled in Zanzibar

A gala party celebrating the late rock star Freddie Mercury's 60th birthday has been canceled in the conservative Muslim region of Zanzibar, where Mercury was born. Organizers canceled the weekend event on Thursday after outraged Muslims threatened to disrupt it, Agence France-Presse reports.

On Wednesday organizers said they would continue with the planned event despite fierce opposition from Islamists, who complained that the lifestyle of the flamboyant gay lead singer of the band Queen was offensive to many on the overwhelmingly Muslim archipelago, which is part of Tanzania. Now organizers say they have no choice but to call it off.

"We have decided to cancel the party after misleading and erroneous information was spread about it," said organizer Simai Mohamed Saidi, who runs a Freddie Mercury-themed restaurant in the capital. "I urge Muslim groups in the future to seek correct information from us instead of relying on rumors," he said in an open letter, adding that the event was intended to be a celebration to honor Mercury, who died of AIDS complications in 1991. Saidi also lamented that the cancellation would hurt his intention to use the party to raise money for people with HIV/AIDS in Zanzibar.

Conservative Zanzibari Islamists last week demanded that authorities ban the party and then vowed to stage mass demonstrations if it took place, saying it would tarnish the islands' reputation and culture and promote homosexuality. "We were ready to join forces against the party because we had information that a number of gays from abroad had come to take part," Sheikh Azzan Hamdani, of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, told AFP. "We had also written letters to the tourist commission and the owner of the Mercury restaurant, demanding that they stop the party."

Government authorities, who have long tried to balance secular constitutional ideals, the demands of a booming tourist industry, and the wishes of conservative Muslims, never formally responded to the Islamists, according to AFP. But Zanzibar's information ministry this week ordered local state-run media not to give the event any coverage.

Few Zanzibar residents are aware of Queen or Freddie Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara on the archipelago's main island, know both as Zanzibar and Unguja, to Persian parents employed by the British colonial administration on September 5, 1946. But the appearance in recent weeks of posters advertising the beach party to celebrate what would have been his 60th birthday prompted the Islamist complaints. Although he was educated in India and moved with his family to England in 1963, Mercury, who died in 1991, remains perhaps Zanzibar's most famous son to many Westerners and rock music fans. (The Advocate)

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