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Residents set to buy Copenhagen hippie enclave

Residents of a hippie enclave in the Danish capital announced Saturday they had agreed in principle to a deal that will allow them to collectively buy the former naval base they first occupied four decades ago.

Denmark's finance minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen proposed the buyout option in February after the Christiania squatters lost a long-running legal battle earlier this year asserting their unreserved right to use the one-time military base as their home.

Residents have been fighting to save the enclave since 2004 when the state launched a clampdown on the drug use it said was taking place within. Tensions intensified in 2008 when residents fought running street battles with police.

This week, Christiania shut its gates for the first time to visitors as residents convened to thrash out a consensus ahead of the government's May 2 deadline. After three days of closed-door discussions, the 900-strong population backed the plan to purchase the counterculture haven from the state.

"We felt that we were being pressed by the Danish government, and it has been that way for eight or nine years," spokesman Thomas Ertmann told The Associated Press.

He said they had only agreed to the proposed deal as it would enable Christiania residents "as a collective" to buy up all of the buildings in the partially self-governed township.

"This is what we have said yes to going into negotiations about," said Ertmann. "We want to be able to continue our unique way of doing things."

Ertmann said residents had not yet figured out how they will finance the purchase.

"That's something that's part of the negotiations," he said, adding that they did not have a wealthy backer ready to step in.

"Unfortunately, we do not have a rich uncle in America," he said.

Although Frederiksen said he would not comment on the Christiania decision until Monday, the ministry's Palaces and Properties Agency confirmed that it had received an official reply from Christiania residents.

Spokesman Jacob Holst Andersen said the agency had not yet set a price but would now ensure that a real estate expert was brought in to evaluate the area.

"It's in the neighborhood of 100-150 million Danish kroner ($20-30 million), but that's not the official price," said Holst Andersen.

The colony was created in 1971 when hippies took over an abandoned 18th-century navy fort on land owned by the Danish state.

With its brightly colored buildings and open drug use, Christiania soon became a byword for counterculture and limited government interference until the authorities began a clampdown on the drug trade in 2004.

Two years later, the center-right government announced plans to tear down buildings erected by the residents and replace them with apartment blocks, prompting Christiania residents to sue the state.

Clashes between police and residents intensified as the legal dispute wore on, with police firing tear gas to dispel protesters after they were pelted with rocks and firebombs during one street battle in 2008.