Sex case minister's fate hangs in balance

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The fate of Elio Di Rupo, the Belgian deputy prime minister, hung in the balance yesterday as inquiries intensified into claims that he had sex with under-age teenage boys.

Late on Wednesday, a parliamentary commission deferred a decision on whether to lift Mr Di Rupo's immunity from prosecution and send him for trial. The commission ruled that evidence presented so far was contradictory, and a final decision would not be made for a further two weeks.

The delay was widely seen yesterday as an attempt by the centre-left government to de-fuse the controversy and ward off a threat to the coalition, which could collapse if Mr Di Rupo were forced to resign.

However, as more unsubstantiated, lurid details of the allegations spilled into the press yesterday, an already angry and volatile Belgian public demanded swift answers.

Gay groups, meanwhile, step-ped up their warnings against a witchunt, which could bring a moral backlash against homosexuals. Leaders of Belgium's gay community called on the press and politicians to recall that no corroborated evidence of illegal sex has yet been presented against Mr Di Rupo, who has denied all allegations. It remains unclear whether the teen-ager who has accused Mr Di Rupo was under 16, the age of consent of homosexual sex in Belgium. Gay groups insisted a clear line should be drawn between this case, and the paedophile murder of young girls, revealed in August, which led to the arrest of Marc Dutroux.

Mr Di Rupo, minister for communications and Jean Pierre Grafe, a regional government minister, both openly homosexual, have been named in statements made to the police by a young male prostitute, known as Oliver T.

The statements, which were before the parliamentary commission on Wednesday, were made during the intensified inquiries into paedophile rings launched since the Dutroux affair. The teenager alleges that Mr Di Rupo had sex with him in public toilets, in a discotheque and at his home. He also describes sexual encounters with Mr de Grafe, including pornographic photography sessions at Mr de Grafe's apartment in Liege.

Members of the parliamentary commission pointed out yesterday that the evidence contained numerous inconsistencies, particularly concerning the accuser's age at the time. Furthermore, the accuser's motives remain in doubt, with some members of the Franco- phone community accusing Flemish elements of seeking to smear the Francophone socialist party, which is embroiled in a high level corruption scandal.

Whatever the final ruling of the commission of inquiry, Mr Di Rupo, a hitherto popular figure, is highly unlikely to survive in Belgian politics in the climate of distrust and recrimination.