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Madrid to set up red-light quarter

MADRID'S PROSTITUTES are plying their trade in too blatant a manner, according to the city's conservative authorities who want to banish them to remoter parts of the capital.

Councillors are planning to clear prostitutes away from public areas - specifically the Casa de Campo park, a vastwoodland to the west of the city - but, following countless past failures, they are trying to achieve it through agreement rather than force. Some prostitutes complain they are being criminalised for earning a living, and demand protection, not persecution, from the police. They fear they will be corralled into a ghetto and pushed still further into the clutches of powerful clandestine mafias.

"The city hall just wants to hide away what it doesn't want to see," said Concha Garcia, spokeswoman for the prostitutes' defence association. "It's the ostrich policy. They should regulate prostitution like any other line of work."

Other prostitutes say a specially designated area in a far corner of the park might provide greater security and freedom from police harassment. But they will only consider the idea if the city installs lighting, public telephones, toilets, public transport and a cafeteria in the inhospitable area. The 400 women and men who work in the park are debating the proposal and are due to make a decision next week.

The polemic flared when an over-vigilant environmental police patrol surprised a couple engaged in oral sex in a car in the Casa de Campo at 11.30am on 13 April. The prostitute and her client were each fined 1,000 pesetas (pounds 4) for committing "indecorous acts on the public highway", under a Francoist decree that dates from 1961.

"It's bad enough that we have to do these things without the police subjecting us to even more indignity," complained one prostitute who had been similarly caught in the act.

The Casa de Campo is renowned as a centre for prostitutes who parade day and night along winding roads near the amusement park and the zoo - popular among families with young children - and the entrance to the bullfighting school, which is attended daily by hundreds of pubescent boys.

But it may not be easy for the authorities to shift prostitutes from their established territory near the park's tube stations and cafes. Elena, a gypsy prostitute of 56, told a young reporter: "I don't take any notice. Listen sonny, they're not going to move me from here because we are free. Just as I do what I like with my body, so I do the same with my feet."