AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Wednesday, August 6, 2003
Athens and its prostitutes declare truce in brothel row
ATHENS Athens' prostitutes called off a strike Wednesday after authorities suspended their drive to shut down 15 downtown brothels for being too close to schools and churches.
"Any prostitute who likes can go back to work or on holiday now," Elisa Kolovou, spokeswoman for the prostitutes' union KEGE, told AFP.
Municipal officials had been attempting since Monday to enforce a town hall decision to shut down 15 brothels for violating a 1999 law on prostitution. But a crowd of prostitutes successfully prevented them from pulling down the shutters on all but two.
City officials said they were suspending the closures until September. "If we had insisted (on closing the brothels now) there would be unpleasant consequences," Athens deputy mayor Ira Valsamaki was quoted as saying in Greek daily Ethnos.
During the protests, KEGE officials had threatened to throw themselves off a balcony of one of the allegedly illegal brothels if the city closed it down.
Prostitution is legal in Greece, but since 1999 is limited to brothels where a maximum of three people can be employed and which must not be not close to schools or churches.
In late August, KEGE will resume talks with Greece's interior ministry to ease the 1999 law, which prostitutes say is almost impossible to observe.
Athens city council, which had begun surveying brothels in mid-July, said none of the 15 brothels which 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. Several Nordic states urged Athens not to increase the number of prostitutes in view of the Games. Athens expects more than 200,000 visitors during the Olympics.
But KEGE complains the authorities do not show the same zeal in cracking down on the much larger number of unregistered, illegal prostitutes active in Greece. Non-governmental organisations put their figure at around 30,000. Most of them are illegal immigrants.
By contrast, just 700 registered prostitutes ply their trade in some 200 brothels in downtown Athens. In the greater Athens area they total up to 1,500. Around 5,000 are registered throughout Greece.
The United States recently put Greece on a blacklist of countries which are not doing enough to halt trafficking in women and children.
Created: December 1, 2003
Last modified: January 15, 2004
Commercial Sex Information Service
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710