'Shameless' Britons should be tried for indecency, say outraged Greeks

As the resort of Laganas becomes the new pub-crawl capital of the Mediterranean, the authorities are calling for a crackdown on loutish tourists
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It is four o'clock on Saturday morning, and the party in the Greek resort of Laganas shows no sign of letting up. Loud, thumping music accompanies the swarms of sweaty, red-faced young Britons downing cheap beer while a pretty, semi-naked brunette writhes around on the bar counter.

Further down the neon-lit strip of bars and pounding night clubs, an amorous young couple sporting wet T-shirts are leaning against the wall, oblivious to the leering comments hurled at them.

Welcome to the Ionian island of Zakynthos - the newly crowned pub-crawl capital of the Mediterranean.

Over the past few weeks, the island has become notorious for the sexually charged behaviour of the thousands of young British holidaymakers flying in on cheap package holidays - deals that can start at £250.

Once best known for its loggerhead turtle nesting grounds and pristine white beaches, the island is becoming infamous in Greece as a "ghetto for British hooligans". Its notoriety was confirmed by the "Baywatch scandal" earlier this month, when one night's drinking at the Baywatch bar degenerated into an uninhibited sex party.

Now, as local newspapers are dominated with pictures of drunken Britons having oral sex, outraged Greek politicians are calling for "shameless Britons" to be tried for gross public indecency and deported. In desperation, Greek tourism officials are holding talks this week to prevent the island suffering the same fate as the Rhodes resort of Faliraki.

Two years ago it became infamous for drink-induced violence, rapes and loutish behaviour among British tourists, which culminated in two club reps being convicted for having oral sex in public.

The Baywatch bar has since been closed down, and the local police are cracking down heavily, enforcing a new "zero tolerance" approach. They now try to contain the drink-induced exuberance of the tourists. But even so, many horrified locals want the bar crawls to be stopped. Organised by British tour operators, they can cost as little as €20 (£14) per ticket, which includes a free drink at five or six bars.

It is an unwelcome phenomenon that has also enraged many British residents now living and working in the once peaceful resort. "I think it would help if tour companies stopped organising bar crawls," said Georgina Aldridge, 51, who has run a restaurant in Zakynthos for the past 10 years. "It reflects badly on the people who have worked so hard trying to build up the tourist industry."

Wayne Sullivan, 43, agrees. "I have worked in Zakynthos as a barman for 12 years and it is a genuinely peaceful place," he said.

"A few of the bars have taken it upon themselves to cater for a small minority of the visitors here who treat their holidays as a one- or two-week pilgrimage for sex and booze, but anyone with an ounce of decorum and self-respect gives these bars a miss."

As for local Greeks, they always avoid Laganas. But they cannot avoid the fact that it attracts around 500,000 visitors every summer - propping up the small island's tourism- dependent economy.

While the police are trying to take measures to stop the revelry getting out of hand, it may be less easy to persuade local bar owners to shut up shop early or stop selling so much cheap alcohol, shutting off the flow of tour-party money.

The island has seen a decline in tourism over the past five years. A recent report by the Greek Minister for Tourism, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that tourism nationwide had increased by 11.5 per cent.

In Zakynthos, however, things have been unsettlingly quiet. In the past year, there has been a 0.5 per cent drop in the number of charter flights coming into Zakynthos airport. And matters could get worse.

"I don't tend to go out in that area," said Marina Mantzou, 35, a local journalist.

"But business is business - 80 per cent of the island's economy is based on tourism and bar owners would not want to see their share in it vanish. I have seem them pay young, provocatively dressed girls to dance on the bar to try and entice more customers to come in."

Yet many young Britons on Zakynthos insist that recent incidents in Laganas were isolated and by no means representative of general behaviour on the island. "Laganas is just a good night out," said Cheryl, 21, from Newcastle. "You get more trouble in Newcastle. Here it's just about going out, having a drink and a good laugh."