Belgians lost in a moral wasteland

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The Independent Online
Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, yesterday rejected claims that Sunday's mass protest in Brussels signalled a far-reaching crisis of confidence in the state's institutions.

Speaking after the march through Brussels, when Belgians expressed frustration at the failure of the justice system over the Dutroux child sex-scandal, Mr Dehaene insisted that public disillusionment with the political class is common to all countries.

"In any country you have moments when emotional problems ignite energy and allow problems to be attacked faster," he said in an interview with the BBC. "It is part of the political process."

However, as sporadic protests continued throughout Belgium yesterday, Mr Dehaene's coalition government remained under enormous pressure to produce action rather than words.

The Prime Minister has promised to reform the justice system by ending political appointment of judges.

Under the system, parties have the right to nominate a certain number of judges. Politicisation of the judiciary has increased suspicion that the failure to tackle the Dutroux paedophile case is part of a wider political cover-up.

Despite Mr Dehaene's offer to tackle the problem, he has so far failed to explain how the reforms might work. Most observers are sceptical about the ability of his government to see them through.

Strong words at the week-end from King Albert added to the pressure on the government to find some way of reassuring the public.

The King called for every aspect of the affair to be re-examined in detail and in the open.

He said that the tragedy of the child deaths and abductions must "be the occasion of a profound change in our country".

Over the next few weeks the government faces the prospect of more evidence of political corruption emerging as investigations continue into a number of related cases.

The inquiry into the case of Marc Dutroux, the man charged with running a child sex-ring, must now be set back on track following the dismissal of the chief investigating magistrate, which sparked Sunday's protests.

The case has already led to the arrest of several police officers. At the same time, the government is certain to face new pressure to explain the possible links between the Dutroux case and inquiries into the death of Andre Cools, the former deputy prime minister shot in a mafia-style killing in 1991.

Other high-level corruption inquiries are also continuing.