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Amsterdam To Clean Up Red Light District

Scantily clad prostitutes beckoning from behind glass windows - long a familiar sight in Amsterdam - will become rarer, officials said Monday in announcing a major cleanup of the city's famed red light district.

Mayor Job Cohen unveiled plans to clean up Amsterdam's historic prostitution district and the adjoining area around Central Station, the city's gateway for most tourists.

Cohen said a move in 2000 to legalize prostitution failed to curb gangsters running Amsterdam's sex trade.

Legalization "didn't bring us what we hoped and expected," he told reporters at the upscale Krasnapolsky Hotel on Dam Square, which backs onto the red-light district. "We want in part to reverse it, especially with regard to the exploitation of women in the sex industry."

The two-pronged plan involves reselling buildings in the area to large commercial developers and cracking down on pimps and petty crime.

To reduce pimping, the city will force escort services and "security" firms for prostitutes, which usually are not registered businesses, to obtain a license, a fixed address and telephone line, and subject them to financial auditing, he said.

Cohen said the city hopes to complete the overhaul before the 2012 opening of a new subway line.

Prostitution has been a part of Amsterdam since the first merchant seamen pulled into its harbor, and mostly has been tolerated by authorities. The open sex industry, with its movie theaters, live shows, sexual aid shops and women in windows, is part of the city's image.

The city began auditing real estate and closing brothels and sex clubs in the area in 2003 to clamp down on money laundering. In September, officials announced a real estate deal to buy buildings housing a third of the prostitutes' windows.

City councilman Lodewijk Asscher said that process would be expanded, leading to a "strong reduction" in overall prostitution as buildings are rezoned. He declined to put a size on the cuts, but said they would amount to "several tens of percents."

He envisioned whole blocks of new residences, shops, restaurants and luxury hotels.

Asked whether the city's tourism industry would suffer if it loses its freewheeling reputation, Asscher said any losses would be "short-term."

"We know that the tourists that come here now, the rowdy Britons, aren't always the tourists that you'd like to have in the city," he said.

"I'm convinced that in time, it will become precisely a more desirable destination because of the combination of window prostitution but without criminality, and with all these extra attractions in the area," he said.

Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute who now runs the Prostitution Information Center, was skeptical.

She said Cohen's claim that "if there's less supply, there will be less demand" for prostitution was wrong, and predicted that closing brothels would merely increase the number of street walkers.

Majoor predicted the city would be able to push prostitution away from Central Station, but doubted that a "clean" red light district free of criminality and full of thriving businesses was realistic.

"That story about the fashion industry coming to the red light district is laughable," she said.

"This is definitely not going to turn into some wonderful Walt Disney story," she said. "The city is simply going to wipe some things off the table and say that what you don't see doesn't exist."