Monday, August 4, 2003

English Wire

Athens prostitutes on strike to protest crackdown on brothels

ATHENS — Prostitutes in Athens called a strike and took to the streets on Monday to protest the city's crackdown on registered brothels.

"Just the lights will stay on. Black kerchiefs will hang outside the houses," Elisa Kolovou, spokeswoman for the prostitutes' union KEGE, told AFP.

The Athens municipality earlier said it was shutting down 15 brothels under its jurisdiction for violating a 1999 law on prostitution.

Around 100 prostitutes had gathered outside city hall in protest, but city officials declined to meet them, Kolovou said.

City officials shut down one brothel on Monday. A crowd of prostitutes successfully prevented municipal staff from putting down the shutters on four more. But a city spokesman said a new attempt will be made on Tuesday.

Prostitution is legal in Greece, but since 1999 is limited to brothels where a maximum of three people can be employed and which are not close to schools or churches.

KEGE is in talks with Greece's interior ministry to soften the 1999 law, which prostitutes say is almost impossible to observe.

"They'll have to close all the brothels because there's always a church or school," Kolovou said.

Athens city council, which had begun surveying brothels in mid-July, said none of the 15 brothels officials had visited complied with the law. Owners were given two weeks to comply.

The authorities began their crackdown in a bid to more strictly enforce the 1999 law ahead of the 2004 Olympics.

According to KEGE spokeswoman Kolovou, some 700 registered prostitutes pursue their trade in some 200 downtown Athens brothels. In the greater Athens area they total up to 1,500. Around 5,000 are registered throughout Greece.

Non-governmental organisations say there are around 30,000 illegal prostitutes, mostly illegal immigrants, working in Greece.

The United States recently put Greece on a blacklist of countries which are not doing enough to halt trafficking in women and children.

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Created: January 9, 2004
Last modified: January 15, 2004
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