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Mayor unveils plan to clean up Amsterdam's red-light district

The mayor of Amsterdam announced plans on Monday to overhaul the city's red-light district, an area known for prostitution, sex shows and soft drugs.

The mayor of Amsterdam announced plans on Monday to overhaul the city's red-light district, an area known for prostitution, sex shows and soft drugs.

Job Cohen said he doesn't want prostitution or drugs recriminalized, but would like to shutdown the shops showcasing the prostitutes from behind glass windows.

Hesaid 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," he said.

Officials fear women are being forced into prostitution, something that legalization was supposed to prevent.

"We have seen in the last years that women trafficking has becoming more, so in this respect the legalizing of the prostitution didn't work out," Cohen said.

Although city officials don't mind the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops,they are concerned that most of those endeavours are controlled by mob money, which brings with it violence.

The mayor's 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 licence, have a fixed address and telephone line, and undergo financial auditing, he said.

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.

But former sex worker Metje Blaak, a spokesperson for the Red Thread, a sex workers' advocacy group, said she fears closing the windows will make it more dangerous for women.

She said "it's a big mistake" because currently she can keep tabs on the women by looking at the windows to see if they are there.

Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute who now runs the Prostitution Information Centre,said she is also skeptical of the plan.

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.

With files from The Associated Press