Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Contact:  Sun, 03 May 1998
Date: 3 May 1998
Author: Peter Conradi


FOR many visitors to Amsterdam, the most startling sights have long been
the "coffee shops" where marijuana is openly sold and the "window brothels"
that display prostitutes like mannequins. But the sex and drugs capital of
Europe is undergoing a purge to rid itself of its reputation as a city
where anything goes.

Nearly half the 400 cafes that supplied soft drugs have been shut down on
the orders of Schelto Patijn, the forceful mayor, mostly on the grounds
that they have broken rules governing the amount of stock on the premises
or have traded hard drugs.

The crackdown has also hit the brothels that had thrived in the red light
district for almost 400 years. Inspectors were dispatched to ensure that
the brothels complied with hygiene regulations and employed no illegal
immigrants. Some of the 200 proprietors have given up the game: more than a
dozen buildings have been sold to the city authorities and turned into homes.

"It is clear that this is a liberal city which still allows and will always
allow quite a lot," said Patijn last week in his office overlooking one of
the city's canals. "But we let things go a little too far - we found we had
lots of illegal underage prostitutes and that most of the coffee shops were
dealing in Rolex watches and hard drugs."

A port city, Amsterdam has traditionally looked outwards to the world.
Since the 1960s its free and easy attitude to sex and drugs has attracted
countless young people.

However, the burgeoning growth of both industries also spawned squalor and
crime. Many of the narrow cobbled streets that run through the centre of
the city have become dilapidated and scarred by graffiti. Large numbers of
prostitutes arrived illegally from the former Soviet bloc or from Third
World countries, often against their will. Street crime rose by more than a
third in the first few months of this year; theft of motorbikes and
Amsterdam's ubiquitous bicycles rose by 60%.

The city has also suffered from growing tension within its immigrant
community. Hundreds of Moroccans fought a street battle with police last
month after one youth was arrested. The busy central railway station, where
drug addicts have preyed on commuters and tourists alike to feed their
habit, is one of seven areas where a state of emergency was declared by the
authorities last month.

"Travellers coming through just don't feel safe here any more," said Henk
Klaver, who has run a catering business in the station for 15 years.

In an effort to improve security, the authorities have ordered those
addicted to injected drugs such as heroin to "shoot up" at specially
established centres. Anybody who repeatedly breaks the rules faces
imprisonment. Plans are also under way to build "treatment prisons", where
criminal addicts will be made to give up their dependency on drugs.

The mayor, a senior member of the Labour party led by Wim Kok, the Dutch
prime minister, even banned street musicians from much of the city centre,
although he cancelled this initiative after an outcry, claiming he had
signed the order by mistake among a pile of documents prepared by his

Despite the other measures, Patijn, who has run the city since 1994,
remains a liberal at heart, laughing off comparisons with the so-called
"zero tolerance" policy pioneered by Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York.

"Zero tolerance means nothing," Patijn said. "The moment Mr Giuliani
started fining people who walked across the street diagonally and not
straight, even the police started laughing.

"I don't belong to some right-wing sect that wants to forbid all sin in the
world. But I want it to be crystal clear about what is allowed. I'm not
trying to reform this city; I am just trying to put certain things right."