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Five-star gay hotel opens in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES -- (AP) -- The first five-star gay hotel in Latin America opened Wednesday in the Argentine capital, an increasingly popular destination on the worldwide gay tourist circuit.

FOLLOWING BARCELONA

The hotel, set near the historic San Telmo neighborhood, is the second of its kind developed by Spain's Axel Corp., which opened a five-star, 66-room gay hotel in Barcelona in 2003.

''Like any other business, we have economic objectives,'' general manager Nacho Rodriguez said. But ``we're also about fighting to help the normalization and acceptance of gays in society.''

He said the hotel was designed to be open and airy. ''Many gay hotels and places are closed off and can't be seen from the street,'' Rodriguez said. ``We wanted our hotel to be open and visible. Why should we try and hide ourselves?''

Swimmers in one of the hotel's two pools certainly can't hide themselves: The hotel's top floor is a glass-bottomed pool that draws visitors' gazes upward as they enter the breezy lobby.

The 48-room hotel is ''hetero-friendly,'' company officials say, noting about a quarter of the Barcelona hotel guests are heterosexual and predicting a similar pattern here.

GAY CAPITAL?

Buenos Aires has vied with Rio de Janeiro for the title of South America's ``gay capital.''

In September, Buenos Aires was host to the first international gay ''World Cup'' soccer championship. In 2002, the city became the first capital in Latin America to legalize same-sex civil unions.

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