A nation takes to the streets to protect its children

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The Independent Online
Clutching white balloons, flowers and ribbons as symbols of purity, Belgians marched in their hundreds of thousands yesterday, united in grief at the murder and abuse of children and their anger at the weak, corrupt state which let it happen, Michael Streeter writes.

For once the country's political divisions were put to one side as six girl victims - four dead, two rescued alive from their dungeon prison - were remembered. "Today we have no Flemish or Walloons. We are all together," said Brigitte de Stexhe, 49, a diplomatic official from Brussels, and one of an estimated 325,000 on the demonstration.

But alongside the sadness, the "White March" through Brussels was driven by an overwhelming sense of anger at an establishment seen as culpable. The paedophile affair is just the latest in a series of scandals involving bribery and corruption, mysterious murders and government cover-ups; and now the country has simply had enough. "Ashamed to be Belgian," one banner said.

The march was the culmination of a week of protests which erupted after the investigating magistrate, Jean-Marc Connerotte, was removed for accepting a meal from a group involved in missing children. Photograph: AP