In Faliraki, the bars fight for business, drunks fight each other and Greeks fight for decency

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The Independent Online

As the taxi inched through the seething mass of humanity, the scene on Bar Street was reminiscent of a riot. Bodies crushed up against the car and young men periodically stuck their heads through the open window to scream curses.

As the taxi inched through the seething mass of humanity, the scene on Bar Street was reminiscent of a riot. Bodies crushed up against the car and young men periodically stuck their heads through the open window to scream curses.

When the driver flashed his lights at the back of one unyielding teenage girl clad in a buttock-hugging skirt, she turned and snarled at him before sullenly drifting away. "You don't beep them or they get angry," he explained.

Public outrage has now outweighed the business brought in by the 460,000 tourists who visit each year. This week the police in the once-sleepy Rhodes fishing village of Faliraki finally decided to clamp down on the loutish behaviour of British teenagers who flock to the resort in their thousands.

Some locals believe the authorities have merely found the courage to stop looking the other way. The result has been a sudden spate of arrests and confusion in the tourist industry.

Yesterday a new police station - albeit a temporary, summer one - was approved for the first time in Faliraki's history, and its officers have been ordered to work double shifts. The move followed the arrest of five British holiday reps accused of hosting illegal bar crawls. All were eventually released without charge.

Two youngsters, arrested for naked and lewd behaviour, were released yesterday after 24 hours in jail. Matthew Maloney, 20, from South Wales, was sentenced to a year in jail or a £2,100 fine for mooning in public. Jemma Anne Gunning, a nightclub worker from Frome, Somerset, was sentenced to eight months, or £1,675, for taking her top off in a "Miss Bottom 2003" contest at the Bedrock Club, a recent import from Ayia Napa. The 18-year-old, who insisted her top had fallen off, was accused by the judge of "insulting our Greek values".

Mr Maloney's mother said yesterday: "These kids seem to be encouraged by the tour operators to drink like fish and act this way. The authorities are cracking down and I pat them on the back for that, but what they have done is excessive."

British operators insisted they and their young charges were doing nothing more than has been tolerated for years, and the chief of police was equally adamant that no new laws had been surreptitiously imposed.

But yobbery has a more sinister side. Sexual assaults have doubled to an annual reported figure of 34 in the past four years. Last week a 17-year-old Briton was fatally stabbed in the neck with a broken beer bottle and a week before a 30-year-old lost his life under a dustcart in a failed prank.

Operators, including Club 18-30 and Olympic Holidays, were hoping a meeting with the local authorities today would clarify the situation. "Everything is up in the air," Steve Henson, the manager for Olympic Holidays in Faliraki, said. "People are being arrested for running bar crawls, which have been part and parcel of all operators' tours for many years. Everybody is on tenterhooks."

The bar crawls, where youngsters pay £17 for a free shot in each place and a meal from more sensible operators, had already been scaled down from crowds of nearly 100 to 50. At present, they are suspended, pending further information.

"There have always been people taking their clothes off," Mr Henson added. "Any other time they would be fined £100 and had a rap on the knuckles."

But Ephthimios Kalamatos, the police captain of nearby Archagelo, who now spends a great deal of time in Faliraki, said nothing new had been sprung on the reps. Contrary to reports, drinking on the streets had not been banned, he said, and people were merely being "advised" not to carry glass bottles or glasses from bars in case they could be used as weapons. The laws regarding illegal bar crawls and nude or lewd behaviour remained the same as they had always been.

"Nothing has really changed," he added. "It is all within the law as it was before." Mayor Yiannis Iatrides said: "We are just enforcing the rules Locals are not upset, they're a bit frightened. By about midnight, a lot of these youths are so drunk they begin undressing and running around totally naked. We Greeks would never do this in their country. It's quite obscene." He said at least 200 Britons had been arrested for drug dealing or for being drunk and disorderly since the beginning of the season.

On Tuesday night, a forlorn figure of a middle-aged Greek woman stood staring across at Destiny's bar, her age making her an incongruous sight in the middle of almost exclusively school-age youngsters.

She was, she said, the owner of the bar. The restaurant she opened 30 years ago was failing to attract the younger crowd so she had been forced to change her ways. Her voice shaking with rage, she said: "Faliraki used to be a good place, a nice place. I grew up here. We build nice bars so people can have fun, not destroy them. It is not just the bars, they destroy their rooms as well. We don't want hooligans, we want families."

The ITV programme Club Reps, which followed the lives of British holiday workers at the resort, has received much of the blame for driving Faliraki downmarket.

This year the problem has been exacerbated because the young men in matching football shirts and predictable Union Flag shorts far outnumber the girls in nurses' outfits or school skirts and suspenders. Suzanne Parker, a 22-year-old in her third year of working bars in the resort, said: "Since Club Reps was on TV, the girls aren't coming out here. The boys get drunk and frustrated and have it out on each other. It is less busy but there is more trouble. You see a girl passed out on the street with no mates. People don't care. Her mates wouldn't leave her at home. But here it is hot, it is sunny and anything goes. I am too old for Bar Street. They are all 17 or 18."

From Sinners or Excite on Bar Street, it is but a short walk past fast-food outlets to Club Street where the clientele can choose from a host of venues, including The Pleasure Rooms or Club Bed. By 1am, the crowd had slowly moved to the second street, where youngsters touted aggressively for business.

"Fellas, come in. Six euros and your first drink free," called out one girl. Couples barely able to stand clung to each other for support. Others had lost the battle with gravity, opting to explore their new-found sexual freedom on the pavements.

A taxi driver who would only give his name as Billy "for fear of the 'mafia' who run the bars", said: "Even a hooker in Greece does not take her clothes off. They [Brits] go to Bar Street then Club Street, then they make love on the beach. Once I had two having sex in my taxi. I told them to stop."

He talked of the latest death, and added: "The bar owners are the real murderers: they sell cheap, rubbish drinks. If I gave you three of those drinks and a pill, you see how you will be. And the reps are thieves. The bar says, 'I give you one euro per person' and they bring 1,000: that is €1,000 in their pockets." But the reps deny taking commission and insist the youngsters are safer when in an organised trip.

The traders of Faliraki have split into two camps. The more sedate bars and restaurants and the shops that once sold leather goods are desperate to bring back the family trade and urging the police to clamp down. But the wilder bars are reluctant to cede the booming business they have gained at their rivals' expense. The teenagers are pawns.

Billy said: "Last week they evacuated Bar Street because someone called and said there was a bomb. It turned out it was a local restaurant owner. It is all competing interests."