Helsinki Polishes Image

After two years of complaints about curb-crawlers trolling for hookers and drunken youths disturbing the peace, the Helsinki City Council has voted for tighter laws on public streets.

Helsinki has banned street prostitution and drinking alcohol in public in hopes of polishing its image before it becomes one of the European Union's cultural capitals next year.

The new regulations, which come into force in December, forbid both the consumption of alcohol in public places and street solicitation though prostitution itself is not banned.

"The city will enter the next millennium with a fresh, new face," said Deputy Town Clerk Ari Rautanen.

But the regulations are unlikely to keep champagne-popping millennium revelers off the streets of Helsinki -- one of several cities taking part in the EU's cultural capital program.

"New Years, May Day, Midsummer and other traditional festivals will still remain a problem," Rautanen says. "But I think the general atmosphere will improve."

After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, prostitution, which ad been practiced more discreetly, spread to the streets. Many of the new streetwalkers are Russian, or from nearby former Soviet countries Latvia and Estonia, both of which have suffered severe economic decline.