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ISTANBUL — On a cold and wet morning here, half a dozen men were lined up at the metal gate that blocks off an alley called Giraffe Lane in the Beyoglu district, their collars turned up against the rain and their hands shoved into their pockets. Having shown their identification to the police officers guarding the gate, they handed over mobile phones, key rings and cigarette lighters to a custodian, shuffled through a metal detector, and sauntered off to take their pick of the brothels that line the lane.
Every day, from 10 a. Founded over a century ago in Ottoman times, the brothel district still serves over 5, men a day, even though its heyday is clearly over, with most of its decrepit apartment buildings now empty.
But early this month, the women working inside poured out to make a stand for their profession. With scarves, shawls and sunglasses concealing their faces, dozens of sex workers assembled on the cobblestones outside Giraffe Lane, brandishing handwritten placards and accusing the authorities of trying to force them out of business. The protest came after a police raid earlier that day in which several brothels were closed down in what the women said was a sting operation aimed at forcing them out of Giraffe Lane.
A spokeswoman for the provincial governorate of Istanbul, which is in charge of licensing brothels in Istanbul, said by telephone that she was not aware of any policy to close down brothels or otherwise impede legal prostitution.
A spokesman for the Istanbul Police Department would not comment on the recent raid on Giraffe Lane but added that he was not aware of a policy singling out brothels for closing. Prostitution is legal in Turkey in licensed brothels, but soliciting and procuring are not. Four brothels were sealed for a three-month period by the police as a result of the charge, and two were permanently closed as repeat offenders. The trend is not limited to Istanbul.