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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Latvians argue over strip clubs
By Laura Sheeter
BBC News, Riga

Man advertising Riga strip club
Touts for erotic shows are common in Riga
Officials in the Latvian capital Riga - now a popular destination for revellers - are proposing to ban strip clubs from the historic city centre.

Riga City Council says it is acting with public support, but the plan does have some opponents.

Riga's historic Old Town dates back to the 13th Century, when it flourished as a trading port in the Hanseatic League.

Its narrow, cobbled streets and ornate medieval buildings are attracting increasing numbers of tourists.

But as cheap flights make the city ever more accessible Riga is also welcoming visitors far more interested in its nightlife than its architecture.

Revellers

Behind the shutters of a medieval townhouse, or tucked down a cobbled side street, you are increasingly likely to find a strip club or lap-dancing bar, ready to welcome visitors who have come to the city for a party.

Often the visitors are on pre-wedding "stag" weekends and want to see more than just historic sights.

Partygoer in Riga
Revellers flock to Riga for "hen" and "stag" parties
But the proliferation of strip clubs in the very small Old Town is controversial.

Clubs face tough competition, so they hire people to walk around town wearing sandwich-boards advertising them, and approach passers-by to persuade them to come in.

These promotional staff are often paid according to how many customers they bring in, and their aggressive marketing techniques, as well as the mess left by hundreds of discarded club flyers, is causing increasing public indignation.

Discussions about the problem occupy a lot of airtime and column inches in the local media.

Riga City Council says locals and tourists alike are complaining to them that club promoters make it impossible to walk through the Old Town without being accosted, and that the city is getting a bad image.

They had discussed introducing a ban on "erotic advertising".

Clean-up campaign

A ban on adverts for strip clubs and the like radically altered the appearance of the arrivals hall at Riga International Airport.

Cobbled street in old Riga
Latvians are proud of their capital's attractive historic centre
But now the council has decided it needs to go further and ban clubs from the Old Town altogether.

Their plan would also ban strip clubs from operating in apartment buildings, state and publicly-owned property, and within 300 metres of any educational establishment.

But there is some tough opposition.

Clubs say it is not fair to impose a ban on legitimate, and profitable businesses.

Eduard Letunov, who manages several clubs in old Riga, told the BBC he did not think the council would be able to impose an outright ban, but he said they would compromise on how they worked.

"If they tell us we can't advertise using people carrying placards, then OK, we'll comply. But we pay tax to the government, so why should they interfere with our business?" he said.

It seems that some in the national government agree.

The minister for local government, Maris Kucinskis, has spoken out against the plan, saying the council has no right to impose a ban as Latvian law allows all legitimate businesses freedom to operate.

However, the city's mayor has not given up. The council is working with the ministry to devise a way for it to legally regulate strip clubs in the Old Town.

If the plan succeeds, it could spell the end for Riga's flourishing reputation as a sexy holiday destination.


SEE ALSO
From Latvia with love
22 May 06 |  Northern Ireland
Country profile: Latvia
20 Jul 05 |  Country profiles

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