July 24, 2003 12:00am
Prostitutes Protest Brothel Crackdown
by: Philip Pangalos
(ATHENS, GREECE) -- Dozens of Greek prostitutes have demonstrated outside the interior ministry protesting at the closure of brothels in Athens in what they see as a crackdown ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games.
The protest on Thursday marked an ironic twist at a time when seven Nordic and Baltic ministers protested at reported Greek plans to license more brothels -- vehemently denied by the Athens mayor -- ahead of the Olympics.
Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Wednesday sent a joint letter to Athens expressing their outrage, brushing aside the host city's denial that it was catering to an expected rise in sex tourism.
The Athens municipal council said it will not increase the number of brothels, on the contrary, it will insist on enforcing strict rules required by Greek law. It said an estimated 600 illegal brothels will be limited to 230.
"The City of Athens Municipal Council has commenced its campaign to restrict the illegal activities surrounding the sex industry, by ordering the closure of the city's first 15 brothels found to be violating the law," a statement said on Thursday. More will be closed in the coming weeks, it added.
"The campaign was decided upon following the growing problem noted in recent years, particularly with regard to human trafficking from Eastern Europe. Under no circumstances is it related solely to the forthcoming Olympic Games," it said.
Greek brothels cannot operate near schools, nurseries, churches, hospitals, playgrounds, squares, sports centres or charitable institutions, which prostitutes say leaves little room for licensed ones, forcing them onto the streets.
"We are licensed and they won't let us earn a living; they don't do anything about illegal prostitution," said Dimitra Kanellopoulou, who has been in the oldest profession for 20 years and is president of the Movement of Greek Prostitutes.
The protesting prostitutes, who all held out health certificates and licenses, said they charge brothel customers from 15 to 30 euros. "We mainly serve foreigners and low income groups," said Olga Apostolopoulou.
Kanellopoulou said 1,500 licensed prostitutes working in 220 Athens brothels pay taxes and 280 euros a month for social security (news - web sites).
"We don't want our shops closed down," said Vanessa, a German prostitute who has worked in Greece for five years after six years in Berlin. "It's better and safer for us girls to work from a house," she said.