The Athens Municipality scrambled yesterday to refute reports it was promoting the abuse of women after a recent decision by City Hall to impose order on the chaotic prostitution scene in Athens in time for the Olympics ballooned out of control. First the Church of Greece attacked the municipality for allegedly promoting prostitution. When city officials explained, the issue died down. But it has picked up steam abroad. Earlier this month, officials in Sweden and Iceland lodged complaints with the International Olympic Committee and the Greek government. Yesterday, ministers for gender equality in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania wrote a joint letter to the mayor of Athens. «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,» they charged. The Athens Municipality issued a statement explaining: «The Municipal Council of Athens is not, under any circumstances, moving toward increasing the number of brothels or prostitutes. On the contrary, its decision was to ensure the maintenance of strict preconditions and limits stipulated by the law which was voted on four whole years ago but has never been applied.» The city’s press office said some 600 brothels are operating illegally in Athens and the council is prepared to license 230. Yesterday, 15 brothels were inspected by city officials and were told to apply the necessary regulations by August 4 or close down. «The Athens Municipality’s political choice is for an institutional framework and strict regulations to be enforced without selective or haphazard application. With this choice, the number of brothels in the capital will be reduced,» the statement said.