Belgian protest goes on despite justice promise

Belgium's justice minister pledged to reinforce inquiries into the country's child sex and murder scandals yesterday as nationwide protests continued over the sacking of the judge leading investigations.

Seeking to calm the anger generated by the handling of the case, Stefaan De Clerck told a parliamentary committee that a second investigating magistrate would be appointed to the probe.

"Everything is being done to pursue the investigation," he said, adding that 350 people are now working full time on the case sifting through 5,000 videos of child pornography for incriminating evidence.

An outcry followed Monday's high court ruling in which the judge Jean- Marc Connerotte was removed from the case, fuelling suspicions of a political and judicial cover-up.

Confidence in the institutions of state has been at best fragile since August when the bodies of four young girls were found buried at houses owned by a convicted rapist, Marc Dutroux.

Accusations of bungling and complicity levelled at the authorities have been led by the families of the victims.

The government is bracing itself for more trouble on Sunday when at least 50,000 people are expected to converge on Brussels in support of Mr Connerotte, who was taken off the case because of alleged bias in attending a function organised by families of the victims.

The same judge was removed from the inquiry into the murder of the former deputy Prime Minister Andre Cools when in 1994 he signalled he was on the brink of a major breakthrough. The Belgian newspaper, La Libre Belgique, suggested yesterday that Mr Connerotte may have tracked down evidence linking senior political figures to the Dutroux affair.

Mr De Clerck denied yesterday that he had brought pressure to bear on the families to drop an appeal against the ruling of the country's highest court to remove Mr Connerotte. The decision to abandon their appeal came after a tense meeting with the minister on Tuesday night.

A second day of spontaneous protests and strikes again underlined the strength of emotion in Belgium following the latest developments.

Bus drivers in Charleroi and Namur voted for a one-day strike while 500 steelworkers at a plant near Charleroi, birthplace of Marc Dutroux, stopped work to march past one of his homes in the village of Marcinelle. Roads near Charleroi airport were blocked off by workers from the Sabca Aeronautics factory.

The revelations surrounding the Dutroux affair have, it is believed, served to drive a further wedge between Belgium's already divided linguistic communities, with many Flemings seeking to distance themselves from the macabre discoveries around Charleroi in French-speaking Wallonia. But the latest wave of discontent has crossed the linguistic divide. Hundreds of students threw eggs and smashed the windows of the law courts in Antwerp, the Flemish capital, while a few miles away in Mechelen demonstrators blocked several of the city's major roads. In Genk, also in Flanders, Ford workers halted production for a spontaneous protest.

The upheavals caused by the Dutroux affair have attracted intense outside attention, another source of dismay for the Belgians whose profile internationally is that of a placid, conformist and law-abiding people.

Mass protest however is not a newly discovered phenomenon. Modern Belgium was born in 1830 after William of Holland tried to force through unpopular reforms on hostile Belgian subjects.

Simmering discontent throughout the winter of 1829 climaxed the following year when in an apparently spontaneous uprising the people of Brussels took to the streets and stormed government buildings.

That sparked the revolution which led eventually to independence.

Similarly mass rallies in the summer of 1950 and a national strike forced the abdication of King Leopold III because he was perceived to have been complicit in the Nazi occupation of the country.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before