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Saturday, January 9, 1999 Published at 12:34 GMT

World: Europe

Vice vote gets low turn-out

Prostitution is legal in Riga but authorities want it contained

By BBC Correspondent James Coomarasamy

Riga's red light referendum is now officially over. For three days, citizens of the Latvian capital have had the opportunity to cast their votes in a telephone poll that will decide which area of the historical town should be set aside for the city's prostitutes.

Despite what appears to have been a low turn-out, the decision of the voters will eventually be written into law, city officials say.

Prostitution is legal in Latvia and the question of where prostitutes should ply their trade was put to a democratic vote after the failure of previous attempts to regulate the trade. These included the introduction of a prostitute passport.

Overworked police

The city laws have recently changed to introduce compulsory health checks for prostitutes, but police officials have questioned how these would work in practice.

Riga's police chief, Valdis Pumpurs, has complained that he only has two officers working on the prostitution beat and they are too overworked to enforce hygiene regulations effectively.

Only about 150 Rigans took part in the poll, according to officials, and even most of those appear to have opted for the status quo.

Chaka Street, traditional home of Riga's prostitutes, is likely to become the officially-approved red light zone, the officials said. The final result will be made public on Monday.

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