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Amsterdam to cut brothels by half

Women work in the red light district, Amsterdam (file pic)
The red light district has been popular for 700 years

Dutch authorities have revealed details of their plans to clean up Amsterdam's famous red light district.

They say they will close half the city's brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in a bid to drive organised crime from the city centre.

Council officials gave the sex industry a warning a year ago that they were going to close some brothels.

The deputy mayor of Amsterdam says the plans will stop the city being a "free zone" for criminals.

Last year the city said it wanted to close one-third of the red light district's brothels, where scantily-clad prostitutes display themselves in shop windows.

But the new measures aim to reduce the number of sex "windows" from 482 to 243, a council spokesman said.

Amsterdam also wants to close half of the 76 marijuana shops in the city centre.

City centre 'decay'

The city council says that some other businesses are also related to the decay of the city centre, including peep shows, sex shows, mini-supermarkets, phone and souvenir shops, and they will also be shut down.

You won't have to be embarrassed
Lodewijk Asscher
Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam
It says there are indications that some red light businesses serve as a cover for organised crime, including drugs and the trafficking of women.

"Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this," said Deputy Mayor Lodewijk Asscher.

"We can still have sex and drugs but in a way that shows the city is in control."

Officials have set aside some 39m euros (33m) to bring back hotels, boutiques, galleries and restaurants to the area.

'Tolerant and crazy'

The plans come just days after a national ban on hallucinogenic or "magic mushrooms" from shops known as Smart Shops.

The BBC's correspondent in the Netherlands, Geraldine Coughlan, says the latest plans go much further than had been expected.

Critics say the crackdown in Amsterdam is the latest example of a hardening of the traditional liberal Dutch approach to social issues including prostitution and soft drug use.

But Mr Asscher said that the changes would be more in line with Amsterdam's image as a "tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals".

"It will be a place with 200 windows (for prostitutes) and 30 coffee shops, which you can't find anywhere else in the world - very exciting, but also with cultural attractions," he said, adding: "And you won't have to be embarrassed to say you came."

Prostitution will be allowed only in two areas in the district - notably De Wallen, a web of streets and alleys around the city's medieval retaining dam walls.

The area has been a centre of prostitution for hundreds of years.

Prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands in 2000, formalising a long-standing tolerance.

Marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but prosecutors will not press charges for possession of small amounts. Coffee shops are able to sell it openly.

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