AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Those who visit Amsterdam this summer, watching tourists patrolling the infamous Red Light district in search of sex and drugs, might not notice how the vaunted Dutch tolerance is wearing thin.
The Dutch, complaining that their culture of "looking the other way" has created a free-for-all, want to turn the clock back.
The toughest stance has been taken by Rotterdam, traditionally regarded as the working man's city as opposed to Amsterdam, home of the cultural elite.
And behind the calls for more law and order is a growing tendency to blame crime on ethnic minorities.
Just a few years ago, the police refused to register the ethnic origins of criminal suspects. But after a series of attacks in which black youths killed white people the mayors of several Dutch cities have started to single out specific groups from North Africa and the Caribbean.
This has fuelled tensions with immigrant groups. Moroccans rioted in Amsterdam this month when police shot dead a youth who had a knife.
The Dutch have been noted for their tolerance in Europe for centuries, adopting a policy which allowed illegal if non-obtrusive behaviour.
In recent decades they added the sale of cannabis, drug usage and prostitution to the long list misdemeanours to which they turned a blind eye. Some were even legalised.
Now, the municipal authorities, many of which came to power during the 1960s and 1970s when they replaced their older and stricter predecessors, realise they may have overdone it.
In a bid to reverse the trend Rotterdam mayor Ivo Opstelten, nicknamed "Giuliani on the (River) Maas" in a reference to New York's former hard-line mayor, has vowed to lock up or cure the city's 700 hard-core drug addicts.
The new city council has slashed the number of "coffee shops" which sell soft drugs from 300 to 60 and aims to reduce the number further.
Amsterdam, one of the first European cities to adopt a relaxed attitude to homosexuals, is working to shut erotic bars and clubs.
"This place is getting worse than Tehran," joked Siep de Haan who organises the annual Gay Pride parade. "City Hall is terrified about Amsterdam's image of sex and drugs and rock and roll."
Until last year, police officers were allowed to frisk only the people they arrested. Now, following a pilot scheme in Rotterdam, anyone walking the Dutch streets can be searched at any time.
Begging, which ceased to be an offence many years ago, has been reinstated as a punishable felony by authorities in bigger cities.
"Beggars were becoming aggressive, and we were powerless. Something needed to be done," explained an Amsterdam police spokesman.
Urinating in the canals or against Amsterdam's elegant 17th-century facades, once ignored by passing policemen, will be punished by a hefty fine.
MOVE TO THE RIGHT
Stricter law enforcement is welcomed by voters who have expressed their exasperation at what they see as a decline in Dutch society by electing new rightist parties to run town halls.
The promise to restore law and order has been keenly embraced by established parties in an attempt to stem their own decline.
"Things have improved a bit. A drug pusher across the street has at last been arrested and his house has been boarded up. In the old days he would have been back in a week," said Libben Reeskamp, living in Amsterdam's central Nieuwmarkt area.
Now he wants to see action against other drug dealers and addicts who keep him awake at night.
Having already restricted the sale of postcards showing explicit nudity, Amsterdam's mayor Job Cohen is aiming to limit all-night opening hours for brothels.
He hopes it will reduce harassment from brawling Britons who drink through the night before heading home on cheap flights, said Marjan Jonker of the prostitute interest group De Rode Draad (The Red Thread/String).
"It's all aimed to limit nuisance. The measures are aimed to make the streets safer for Amsterdammers, but not for prostitutes whom police are checking for illegal immigrants much more aggressively these days," she added.
In another sign of the turning tide, commercial television broadcaster SBS -- which operates three Dutch channels -- said in June that it would stop showing explicit sex, the feature which defined its launch a decade ago.
"It was getting out of hand," said SBS manager Fons van Westerloo. "Erotic shows crept towards porn and overshadowed our image. Viewer ratings were also going down. Is the mood in the country shifting to become more puritanical? Yes, I think so. We've decided to take our responsibility."
Some schools have overturned the practice of calling teachers by their first names and reverted to "sir" and "madam".
Soon to be introduced is a compulsory identity card, frowned upon after World War Two when careful registration helped the Nazis hunt down Dutch Jews. The card is now seen as an inevitable aid to keep on top of crime.