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Officials in Sweden, Iceland protest Athens’s Olympic prostitution plans

As the Church of Greece appeared to have cleared up what it now refers to as a misunderstanding with the Athens municipality over the latter’s stated plans to «put some order into the unrestricted situation in the city regarding the operation of brothels,» officials in Sweden and Iceland have lodged complaints with the International Olympic Committee and the Greek government about the idea of increasing the number of brothels during the Games. Prostitution is legal in Greece, but according to a 1999 law, brothels may only employ three people and must not be near schools or churches. Athens municipal officials asked the government last month to amend legislation to ensure the law was adhered to during the Games, which in other cities has resulted in an influx of prostitutes seeking customers. City official Ira Valsamaki told AFP that the intention was not to allow a free rein to prostitution, but to fix new measures because it was generally believed the current law would not be adhered to during the Games. Ecclesiastical fears In April, top Church officials had denounced as a plan to promote «sex tourism» a drive by Athens municipal authorities for laxer laws to facilitate the legitimate functioning of the capital’s brothels during the 2004 Games. The matter was raised by Archbishop Christodoulos during a session of the Holy Synod, the Church of Greece’s governing body. «[The municipal authorities’ campaign] constitutes an insult to the city of Athens and conveys the impression that the country’s largest municipality is showing an untoward interest in sex tourism,» a Synod statement said. «This decision will only satisfy the gangs of procurers that carry out an unchecked traffic in young foreign women.» The Church also said the plan allowed the US State Department to put Greece on a blacklist of countries accused of not exerting enough pressure in the fight against the trade of human beings for sex. Municipal authorities countered that they only wanted a more realistic prostitution law to replace current legislation that is largely ignored. «Our decision is intended to stop the unlicensed functioning of brothels,» the city council said in a statement. «The Holy Synod was obviously not fully aware of our decisions and intentions.» As recently as last Monday, the Church accused Athens’s authorities of promoting «sexual tourism» for the Games. Church mollified During repeated telephone calls and meetings this week, municipal officials explained to Church leaders their decision to seek specific conditions and a framework so that prostitution does not get out of control during the Games. They said that they would be undertaking a case-by-case review of the 230 brothels already licensed. Church Hierarchy representative Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos said that the Hierarchy would discuss the issue and decide on their future stance. Swedish complaint Meanwhile, the Swedish government has lodged a complaint with the International Olympic Committee and the Greek government on the latter’s policy of authorizing 30 more brothels during the Games, according to an AFP report from Stockholm. «It is most worrying to receive information that initiatives have recently been taken in your country, in the context of preparations for the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, that could be perceived as supportive of prostitution and brothel activities,» said the letter sent by Swedish Sports Minister Mona Sahlin to Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos. «The Olympic Games were established to bring people together – not to degrade them,» the letter added. Iceland’s protest Iceland’s National Olympic Committee has also complained to the IOC about the plan for more brothels. «We are asking the IOC to confirm the information, and we also object to it. The Olympic Games must not serve as a cover for the sex industry,» Ellert Schram, president of Iceland’s National Olympic Committee, told the AFP in Reykjavik. Kirstin Astgeirsdottir, a spokeswoman for the Icelandic Feminist Association said: ‘Parallel games’ «We protest that parallel to the Olympic Games, there will also be games concerning pornography and violence, which are in violation of United Nations’ resolutions in the fight against prostitution and trade in human beings.» “The proposals by Athens officials are in total contrast with the spirit of the Olympic Games which advocates health, peace, sexual equality and cooperation,» she added. However in a statement earlier this week, Athens City Hall said it was not increasing the number of brothels. Yesterday Athens 2004 spokesman Serapheim Kotrotsos told AFP the issue was not the Games organizing committee’s concern.