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COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Residents in Copenhagen's Christiania hippie commune could lose their virtually free housing after they lost a court battle with the Danish government on Tuesday.
The citizens of the selfstyled freetown, known for its relaxed lifestyle and attitude to drugs, have been at loggerheads with authorities since they founded the community on disused military property in 1971.
Governments have long tried different approaches to reform the riverside commune, including temporary measures allowing the settlement and unsuccessful attempts to clear the area by force.
A 2004 law aimed to develop the area's properties, force the 850 residents -- including 150 children -- to pay rent, create a transparent allocation of housing and clean up the drugs trade.
Residents said the law violated their rights, and took the case to court -- but on Tuesday they lost.
"The government, through its property agency, is exonerated," Denmark's Eastern High Court said in its verdict.
Finance Minister Claus Hjort Fredriksen said in a statement: "This confirms that the state has the full right to the area."
Taking a conciliatory tone, the minister asked Christiania residents to put aside their lawsuits and instead sit down for negotiations on how to implement the 2004 legislation.
But Knud Foldschack, a lawyer for the Christiania residents, promised to take the case to Denmark's supreme court.
He said the verdict contained important arguments in favor of Christiania, including a recognition of its almost four decade existence.
"We have won a moral victory and have been given an important legal document to move forward with," Foldschack told Danish TV2.
Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Alison Williams