NASSAU, Bahamas -- Bahamian tourism officials sought to reassure visitors and residents that all tourists are welcome in the Bahamas, despite angry anti-gay street protests here on March 8.

The protests were led by Save the Bahamas, a group formed last month to protest a scheduled February port call by Norwegian Cruise Lines' Leeward, which had been chartered by a gay group.

The March protest was sparked by a rumor that Holland America Line's Veendam had been chartered by a gay group and planned to call at the cruise line's private Bahamian island. Larry Dessler, a spokesman for Holland America, said, "We do not check on lifestyles of our passengers, but the ship was not chartered to a group comprised primarily of homosexual individuals."

The call at Half Moon Cay was scheduled for March 9. Due to rough weather that day, however, the ship did not make the call, Dessler said. Half Moon Cay was to have been the first stop on a seven-day Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Hours before the Sunday protest in Nassau, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingra-ham called a news conference to reiterate his government's policy against discrimination.

He said he was "chilled by the vehemence of expressions against gay persons" and was "particularly pained" by the position taken by a segment of the leadership of the Bahamas Christian Council.

"I believe that the hysteria being created by certain individuals against gay persons visiting the Bahamas is becoming irresponsible," In-graham said. "Homosexuality is not a contagious disease, and it is not a crime in the Bahamas," he said.

The Nassau protests followed an incident in Grand Cayman earlier this winter, when a gay-chartered ship was denied permission to make a port call.

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