North European countries have protested at what they say are plans to increase the number of brothels in the Greek
capital, Athens, during next year's Olympic Games.
Athena, (l), and Phevos, are mascots for the Athens 2004 Olympics
Gender equality ministers from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement expressing their "abhorrence" at an alleged request by Athens City Council to boost permits for brothels to meet demand during the Games.
The row erupted earlier this month when the powerful Greek Orthodox Church which accused Athens' authorities of promoting
"sexual tourism" for the Olympics.
Athens' Mayor, Dora Bakoyiannis, denies the charge, saying she is only trying to regulate illegal brothels by making them apply for licenses.
Greek authorities 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.
But ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries said the plan was incompatible with Olympic ideals.
"It is with indignation and surprise that we have learned that Greece plans to increase brothel activities during the Olympics in Athens 2004," the letter said.
"This will lead to more women being exploited and abused."
Sweden's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Gender Equality, Margareta Winberg, wrote the letter and encouraged the other countries to sign.
"We hope we will manage to stop the expansion of the brothels, but also to start a discussion about whether this is in line with
Olympic ideals, using women and girls in this way," she said.
Prostitution is legal in Greece and registered prostitutes undergo regular health checks and pay social security.
During the last Olympic Games in Sydney, thousands of sex workers packed the streets and bars, taking advantage of a massive boom in the trade.