City Hall's Zero Tolerance project "cleans up" Prague's Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

Prague's Wenceslas Square is the best known thoroughfare in the Czech Republic, and the site of many key moments in the nation's history. But today Wenceslas Square is perhaps not the best of advertisements for the Czech Republic, having earned a reputation for crimes such as drug dealing and prostitution. Now Prague City Hall has launched a campaign to clean it up.

Wenceslas Square - behind me, the stately National Museum; in front of me the statue of St. Wenceslas overlooking the square. But in recent years the patron saint of the nation probably won't have been too pleased with the scene he is looking down on; Wenceslas Square has gradually turned into a favourite hang out spot for drug dealers, pickpockets, and more and more conspicuously - prostitutes.

Fearing that this popular tourist area would give the Czech capital a bad name, Prague mayor Pavel Bem had dozens of police officers - some in uniform, others undercover, spend the last few weeks in a "Zero Tolerance" clean up operation. Jiri Sellner, Prague 1 Police chief:

"The biggest problem here was prostitution, which was mainly offered by girls from Bulgaria. But then there were other crimes too, ranging from pick-pocketing to break-ins and drug dealing. The square is very popular among criminals because it is an attractive tourist area but also an important transport intersection, with two metro stops and trams go right through it."

But it's not only drug dealers and prostitutes who the police have declared war on - beggars and reckless drivers too have been getting their fair share of police attention. Almost 7,500 people were checked in the course of one month.

"Over one thousand were engaged in the oldest profession. Of the people we checked, 1,600 were foreign citizens, of whom 350 ended up in police custody. Sixty of them were people already wanted. We also recorded 2,183 criminal offences and gave out over 1,500 fines totalling 628,000 crowns (25,500 US dollars)."

Those who pass through Wenceslas Square on a regular basis have noticed a difference. The prostitutes and drug dealers on every corner have been replaced by police officers. But how long will it last?

"When you need to clean somewhere properly, you get a big broom and sweep the whole place. After that, you only need a small broom to keep the place clean. That's what we're going to do. There won't be as many police officers on patrol as in the zero tolerance operation but they will continue to keep a close watch on the place."