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Italy's capital may soon have a red light district. Authorities in Rome have approved a plan to allow prostitution in a business center to the south of the city. The move has been met by fierce opposition.
Officials on Saturday said they expected the red light zone slated for the southern suburb of Eur to be open for business in April.
The plan's architects in the local council hope to bring the district's unregulated sex trade under control by making it possible for customers to visit prostitutes in a designated non-residential area.
"Eur is already the city's red light district with more than 20 streets under siege day and night," local campaigner Cristina Lattanzi told La Repubblica newspaper. "There are streets for transvestites, streets for very young girls, streets for male prostitution. Us residents need a bit of peace."
Police will be able to impose fines of 500 euros ($565) on prostitutes caught working outside the red light zone, and a task force of health and social workers will be deployed to help tackle exploitation, pimping, and trafficking. The group will also be responsible for distributing condoms and promoting safer sex.
Rome's center-left mayor, Ignazio Marino, gave his approval for the plan late on Friday.
If the experiment proves successful, the local council aims to establish other red light zones in the Eur area - a business district that was originally built at the behest of dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s.
Plans to establish what would be Rome's first red light district have drawn strong criticism from the Catholic Church, from the center-right opposition on Rome's municipal council, and from members of Marino's own Democratic Party (PD).
PD councillor Gianluca Santilli argued the scheme would likely lead to unacceptable prostitute "ghettoes."
"I hope it is just a bizarre idea dreamed up to draw attention to the problem," he said.
Enrico Feroci, the Rome director of Catholic charity Caritas, said the initiative was morally wrong. "Prostitution always involves human exploitation: trying to regularize it or tolerate it is therefore always mistaken."
However, Andrea Catarci, the council leader in a neighboring district, threw his support behind the scheme, saying many parts of the capital faced similar problems with street prostitution.
"It is a courageous move and one the whole city - institutions and associations - needs to get behind," he said.
While Italian law does not ban the sale of sex, soliciting, pimping, and operating a brothel are illegal. According to government estimates, Italy has 70,000 - 100,000 prostitutes, and 2.5 million men who regularly use their services.
nm/rc (AFP, dpa)