Indonesia sex workers protest plan to close red-light district

SURABAYA, Indonesia (AFP) - Dressed in tight tops and miniskirts, but covering their faces to hide their identities, more than 1,000 Indonesian sex workers protested on Thursday over a plan to close one of Southeast Asia's biggest red-light districts.

The Dolly district of Surabaya, the second-biggest city in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, has largely been left alone by the authorities for decades.

But now the city's crusading new mayor has pledged to shut down the area, which takes its name from a Dutch madam who ran a brothel during the Netherlands' colonial rule of Indonesia, by June 18.

However many women who work in Dolly, who typically offer their services by posing in brightly lit shop windows, say they will not be able to earn a living if the plan goes ahead.

On Thursday some 1,200 sex workers marched through the district, shouting "reject Dolly's closure" and "protect our rights", an AFP reporter at the scene said.

They then wrote protest letters to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the national human rights commission.

"These women have no choice but to work in the sex industry to support themselves and feed their families," said Anisa, from a local rights group that is supporting the prostitutes.

"They cannot find other jobs because they are low skilled and have little education. They have no other choice but to work here," added the non-governmental organisation worker, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Surabaya mayor Tri Rismaharini has promised the sex workers financial assistance and said local authorities will teach them new skills, such as making handicrafts.

Prostitution is officially illegal in Indonesia, although it is common.

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