Hundreds of chanting Belgians took to the streets yesterday to protest at the release from prison of the former wife of the paedophile ringleader and child killer, Marc Dutroux.
Michelle Martin, 52, who has served half a 30-year sentence for helping her husband to rape and kill young girls, is due to be released to a convent in Malonne, near Namur, in the next few weeks.
Around 1,000 people carrying white and black balloons and pictures of the victims gathered in the village yesterday to protest against her arrival.
The protesters shouted: "Shame, shame! Jail, jail! Shame on justice!"
Maxime Prévot, Mayor of Namur, which includes Malonne, said he had warned the Belgian government that it would be "impossible for the city to guarantee the security of Michelle Martin and of the nuns, should she come to Malonne".
The Dutroux case shocked Belgium and staggered the world.
Dutroux, now 55, was sentenced to life in prison in 2004 for kidnapping, torturing and abusing six girls in 1995 and 1996, and murdering four of them. Martin was convicted of helping him. She was also found guilty of allowing two eight-year-old girls to die from starvation in a cellar in their home while her husband was serving a short prison sentence for theft. "I don't understand how we can release someone who let children die in a cellar," one of the protesters, Monique Pire, said yesterday.
A court in Mons ruled on Tuesday that Martin was eligible for "conditional release" so long as she moved to the Clarisses convent, which had agreed to take her in. Last year, France refused to let Martin move to a convent in northern France.
Tommy Scholtes, spokesman for Belgium's Catholic archbishops, said the decision to offer refuge to Martin had been made solely by the nuns.
"Religious communities are relatively independent, so it means that by themselves they are able – they have the right to decide who they can welcome," he said.
Martin will be allowed to leave the convent only under the strict supervision of nuns and probation workers. In 10 years, according to the court ruling, she will be eligible for full release into the community.
Although arrested in 1996, Dutroux was not tried and convicted until 2004. He was found guilty of the abduction and repeated rape of six girls, who were in their teens or younger. He murdered two of the girls and caused the deaths of two others.
Martin was found guilty of helping the abductions and of complicity in the deaths of eight-years-old Julie Lejeune and Mélissa Russo.
Dutroux was part of a paedophile ring but allegations of the involvement of senior figures in Belgian society were never substantiated.
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