Monday, December 8, 2003

Greek prostitutes march to save brothels during Olympics

ATHENS, Greece — About 50 prostitutes marched to Parliament Monday to protest a government decision to withdraw legislation that would have made it easier for brothels to operate in Athens during the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

"We will protest," Dimitra Kanellopoulou, head of the Movement of Greek Prostitutes, told The Associated Press. "Those who persevere win. They cannot decide for us, without us."

Prostitution is legal and highly regulated in Greece, but only in state-licensed brothels.

The bill, which was a key demand of unions representing Greek prostitutes, was withdrawn in late November after discussions between Socialist Premier Costas Simitis and Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis.

It would have eased restrictions in a 1999 law that sets strict rules on the location of bordellos. Prostitutes accused the government of trying to enforce the legislation to clean up the capital ahead of the Olympic next summer and demanded that it be changed.

Closing legal brothels, prostitutes have said, would feed the illegal sex trade before the Olympics.

"We demand our right to work and to our dignity," the prostitutes said in a statement handed to a parliament official. "More than 7,000 women who are licensed to work are being hassled and abused daily."

Under the current law, Athens' mix of residential and commercial zones makes almost any area off-limits to brothels.

The Greek Orthodox church and other groups were opposed to the new legislation, which would have allowed bordellos to operate closer to public buildings such as schools, churches, and daycare centers.

Prostitutes — mostly linked to state-sanctioned brothels — have staged dozens of protests in recent months demanding that authorities back off enforcement of the 1999 law. They now promise to stage more demonstrations.

"We will not sit with our arms crossed," they shouted outside parliament.

Before the bill was withdrawn, Deputy Interior Minister Nikos Bistis had pleaded for its immediate approval because of its connection to the Olympics.

Kaklamanis' office has indicated the bill would not be presented to the unicameral body during its current session, which ends when elections are held next spring.

© 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Created: January 5, 2004
Last modified: January 17, 2004
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