STOCKHOLM – Seven Nordic and Baltic ministers for gender equality yesterday expressed their «abhorrence» over Greek plans to increase the number of brothel permits in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games. «It is with indignation and surprise that we have learned that Greece plans to increase brothel activities during the Olympics in Athens 2004. This will lead to more women being exploited and abused,» Cabinet ministers for gender equality in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said in a joint letter to the mayor of Athens. «We… will in this way express our abhorrence and protest your plans, which we do not feel to be compatible with the fundamental ideals behind the Olympics,» they wrote in the letter, faxed to The Associated Press by the Swedish government and posted on the government’s website. Greek authorities say they have decided to implement a 1999 law which stipulates that all brothels must have permits. Presently only a few of the brothels in Athens have permits. Officials said they will give 230 permits while the law provides for 200. «In Athens, as in the rest of Greece, there are laws which foresee that you need a license to open this kind of establishment and what the City of Athens decided was to implement this law, that’s all,» Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni was quoted by her press office as saying yesterday. The ministers said in their letter it was «of utmost importance that the opposition to all forms of commercial exploitation also include women and children who are especially vulnerable in connection with the Olympic Games.» Sweden’s vice premier and minister for gender equality, Margareta Winberg, said yesterday that she took the initiative to write the letter. «We hope that we will manage to stop the expansion of the brothels, but also to start a discussion if this is in line with Olympic ideals, using women and girls in this way,» she told AP in a telephone interview. «It also means accepting the idea that there is prostitution at sports events to such an extent that special decisions must be made to increase the number of permits,» she added. Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church last month accused Athens city authorities of seeking to increase the number of prostitution licenses in the capital before the Games, expressing «surprise and dismay» over a city council petition urging the government to re-examine prostitution regulations in the Greek capital. The council responded that the Church had been «misinformed,» and that it had only asked the government to «clarify operating rules» for brothels in an effort to curb the illegal sex trade. Greece has a small and tightly controlled legal prostitution industry and a much larger illegal one, maintained mainly through illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe.