Police close drugs mecca

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Zurich - Swiss police, in a meticulously planned operation yesterday, closed the squalid drug scene that disfigured Switzerland's financial capital.

Just hours after the clampdown, the Letten area - which last summer attracted up to 4,000 drug-users - was eerily empty. One addict wandering in a street near the old Letten railway station, muttered: "I don't know what I'm going to do. I feel ill, I urgently need a fix. I don't know where my friends are."

Throughout the city, addicts and dealers kept a low-profile for fear of being detained. Those with enough money had stocked up on heroin or cocaine on Monday. Workmen moved in to clear up syringe wrappers, discarded needles and condoms.

The authorities decided to close Letten because of growing violence and protests from local residents and businesses. Seventeen dealers were arrested in three raids involving 300 police.

Although drug use is illegal, there are no plans to imprison addicts. Those from Zurich will be offered treatment. Care facilities in the city - which has the most progressive drug policy in the country - have been increased.

However, the Association of Drug Specialists warned that the closure of Letten would force addicts elsewhere, prices would rise and quality fall as the drug scene was driven underground. There would also be more temptation to share needles, increasing the risk of Aids.

Previous attempts to stamp out drug dealing failed. Three years ago police closed a "needle park" next to the main train station. That scattered addicts into nearby residential areas before they regrouped in Letten.