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Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 01:31 GMT
Berlusconi suggests legal brothels
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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has raised the possibility of legalising brothels - outlawed in the country since 1958.

The number of prostitutes working the streets in Italian cities has increased, with many women smuggled into the country from eastern Europe and Africa by criminal gangs.

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"Like many Italians, I would be ashamed to walk the streets with my daughters," said Mr Berlusconi.

"Maybe we need to open brothels, regulate them," he said.

There are over 40,000 prostitutes working in Italy, the majority of whom are brought to the country and forced into the sex industry.

"We need to protect these girls, many of whom are in slavery," said the prime minister.

Mixed response

Some MPs welcomed Mr Berlusconi's suggestion.

Communist deputy Katia Lellillo said her parliamentary group backed legislation "to guarantee that those who want to prostitute themselves and those who want to pay for sex with them, can do so".

Carla Corso, head of a prostitute rights' group, also supported the idea.

"I can't believe I find myself agreeing with Berlusconi, even if I marvel at the superficiality with which he speaks about the subject," she said.

But former parliamentary speaker Irene Pivetti predicted that such a move would prove divisive for Mr Berlusconi's coalition.

"Above all, this overture divides his own centre-right, seeing that many don't agree, starting with the Catholics," she said.

Prostitution itself is not a crime in Italy, if it is practised privately.

But organised prostitution is illegal under the 1958 Merlin Law, as is exploiting prostitutes or leading women into prostitution.

See also:

10 Apr 99 | Europe
Italy bans back-seat sex
24 May 00 | Europe
Kosovo sex slave trade warning
08 Mar 01 | Europe
EU 'to protect' sex slaves
25 Aug 00 | Europe
Italy cracks down on paedophiles
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