Prostitutes sew lips together in protest

LA PAZ Thu Oct 25, 2007 3:22pm EDT

1 of 4. Sex workers take part in a strike at a health center in El Alto October 25, 2007. Prostitutes in the Bolivian city of El Alto continued a strike to demand that the mayor reopen brothels and bars ordered closed after violent protests by residents last week.

Credit: Reuters/David Mercado

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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Prostitutes in the Bolivian city of El Alto sewed their lips together Wednesday as part of a hunger strike to demand that the mayor reopen brothels and bars ordered closed after violent protests by residents last week.

"We are fighting for the right to work and for our families' survival," Lily Cortez, leader of the El Alto Association of Nighttime Workers, told local television.

"Tomorrow we will bury ourselves alive if we are not immediately heard. The mayor will have his conscience to answer to if there are any grave consequences, such as the death of my comrades," she said, surrounded by about 10 prostitutes who had sewn their lips together with thread.

Some 30 other women were shown fasting inside a medical clinic nearby.

Mayor Fanor Nava told local radio he would not reopen the brothels and bars closed after city residents fed up with underage drinking and crime stormed the red-light district in El Alto, an impoverished city just north of La Paz.

Prostitution in Bolivia is legal but pimping is outlawed.

Student activists who want the bars and brothels permanently shut down were also on a hunger strike, along with the leaders of an association representing bars, restaurants and karaoke establishments.

"It's not only us owners and the sex workers who are affected, there are thousands of waiters, cooks, bartenders, taxi drivers and street vendors who will be without income," said Ramiro Orellana, spokesman for the business group.

El Alto is one of the largest urban areas in Bolivia, with nearly 1 million inhabitants, mostly Aymara and Quechua Indians.

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