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Europe

Sin City Votes No as Dutch Polls Near Close

Amid the cannabis cafes and prostitutes in the windows of Amsterdam's red light district, supporters of the EU constitution were hard to come by on Wednesday as voters cast their ballots in the crucial Dutch referendum.

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Many Amsterdamers have said no to the EU constitution

The reasons for the "no" are many in this small neighborhood dotted with bridges and canals and famous for its legal sex trade and drugs, including hiked prices after the change to the euro and fear of a roll-back of the Netherlands' liberal laws.

Frans and Lia Walter swept the floor in front of the Casa Rosso, an Amsterdam landmark, polishing the brass handles on the door that leads to this temple of "erotic spectacle".

"It's a mess! And they want to allow Turkey to enter? They should make the Netherlands work first and then we'll see," Frans said, his broom flicking angrily side to side to illustrate his point. "I won't go to vote. It's a signal of discontent," he said.

His wife has yet to make up her mind. "The situation (in the Netherlands) has worsened. If I go it will be to vote 'no'," she says.

Disenchanted workers count the cents

Nearby, Ferdy wiped off a few glasses in his cafe, a traditional working-class pub. "That's right, the referendum is today!" he said as if he had just remembered. After a slight hesitation he added, "I'll go vote, but it will be in opposition ... I'm sick of this government. That might be simplistic, but this is the only means of protest that I have access to," he said. Pointing to his virtually empty cash register he fumed "at the end of the month we have nothing left".

Referendum in den Niederlanden

Despite such gripes, which have been echoed in nationwide polls, voters appeared eager to cast their ballots on Wednesday, with over 30 percent of the Netherlands' 11.6 million eligible voters turning out by 4 pm (1400 GMT).

At a polling station in an upscale residential area of The Hague the turnout had passed 50 percent by 5 pm, the people manning the station told AFP. "There has been a steady trickle of people all day but this area usually has a high turnout as well," a polling official said.

Recent surveys have showed the "no" vote virtually assured of victory with some 60 percent, but in The Hague there were also other sounds.

"I voted in support of the constitution. Surely a small country like ours cannot go on alone. The Netherlands needs Europe," Helena, an assistant in a health food store, said.

On the street 72-year-old pensioner Jo van der Zwan said she voted blank. "I actually did not want to vote at all, I just don't know enough about the treaty," she said

"Undemocratic" treaty turning voters off

Back in Amsterdam however, everyone approached came down firmly against the charter. Joris Kampmeijer, 28, insisted that "the current treaty is not democratic enough".

"If we're going to have a constitution we should have a system in which the people have influence on decision-making," he said, adding that the constitution document "is too long".

In the red light district, Soraya and Sabrina, wearing pink, lacy underwear, sat on display in their window, soaking up the sun as they waited for customers. The referendum does not interest them, they said.

Geldautomat mit Euros

"As soon as possible we will go to the Dominican Republic. There's no euro there. I guess that's a good reason to vote against the constitution," Soraya said, pointing out that "we earn 400 euros a day. Before, 3,000 guilders (close to 1,400 euros) was not unusual."

"And this is a free country here," she said, referring to the legality of prostitution in the Netherlands. "We don't want Europe to come and change that."

Prices rises on dope and sex

In a nearby coffee shop, which legally sells marijuana and hashish, owner Patricia Nederveld was planning to vote "as soon as I get a minute". She too will vote "no" because "everything is more expensive".

"I know that the euro has nothing to do with the constitution, but I am not happy and during televised debates the 'no' arguments have been more convincing," she added.

Haschisch Anbau im Gewächshaus Niederlande

Asked whether the red light district can do without Europe and the hordes of customers that travel to the small pocket of liberal living from across the continent each year, Nederveld simply smiled. "You know, Europe or no Europe, with what we have to offer here, there will always be customers."

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