Wednesday, July 25, 2003

Athens prostitutes rally against regulations for 2004 Olympics

ATHENS, Greece — Dozens of prostitutes, many covering their faces, demonstrated in downtown Athens Thursday against brothel regulations for the 2004 Olympics.

About 60 women gathered under parasols in front of the interior ministry, to express concern that new measures by the city of Athens will drive them out of business.

It was the latest twist in an escalating spat over how to regulate Greece's chaotic sex industry before the games.

The debate has already drawn in the country's conservative Orthodox church and prompted condemnation from Nordic and Baltic countries.

The city says it is determined to implement a 1999 law and impose tighter restrictions on prostitution, which is legal in Greece but overshadowed by a much larger illicit industry.

The regulations ban brothels from operating within 200 meters (660 feet) from churches, schools and youth centers and other places, and call for regular health and premises inspections.

"The law will close brothels and force us out on the street," said Dimitra Kanellopoulou, head of the Movement of Greek Prostitutes, who had been camped outside the interior ministry since late Wednesday.

Vanessa, a prostitute from Berlin, Germany who did not give her last name, added: "It is better for us that each of us has her own house and to work from there."

Soliciting on the street is illegal in Greece, but the law is widely ignored. Thousands of illegal immigrants from eastern Europe also work in the country's large underground sex trade.

In June, the municipality began closing substandard brothels and said it would limit the number of establishments to 230.

Athens authorities — led the city's first female mayor, Dora Bakoyianni — argue that proper regulation before the Olympics is vital to stop illegal prostitution from expanding during the games.

But critics maintain the new regulations will only increase the number of prostitutes in the city for the Olympics.

Greece's Orthodox church called the plans "degrading (for) the face of mankind." And on Wednesday, Nordic and Baltic ministers for gender equality expressed their "abhorrence."

City authorities say 15 brothels have so far been served with a two-week ultimatum to improve standards or be shut down by Aug.4. As a result, Kanellopoulou said many women are now unable to work.

"They cannot take decisions for us without consulting us first. We will take our protest all the way," she said.

"This law violates our human rights and our right to work as prostitutes. It is unconstitutional."

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Created: January 8, 2004
Last modified: January 17, 2004
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