Belgian protest dismissal of pedophile case 'hero'
October 15, 1996
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EDT
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Belgians blasted a courthouse with
fire hoses, staged sit-ins and launched wildcat strikes
Tuesday to protest the dismissal of a judge who has become a
hero for his work against a pedophile ring blamed for the
deaths of four girls.
(23 sec./896K QuickTime movie)
On Monday, Belgium's Supreme Court ordered Jean-Marc
Connerotte off the case, saying he had lost his objectivity
after attending a spaghetti fund-raising dinner last month
organized by an organization set up to look for missing
In Belgium, an investigating judge collects evidence and
prepares it for trial.
In August, Connerotte rescued two kidnapped girls and secured
the arrest of Marc Dutroux, a convicted child-rapist who led
investigators to the bodies of the four slain girls. Dutroux,
believed to be the gang leader, is charged with kidnapping,
rape and murder.
'A good clean-out'
Many Belgians, cynical after years of mismanagement of major
criminal investigations, are irate over the court's decision.
"Connerotte is the only person we still trusted," one man
said. "Public confidence in justice has completely
He and about 700 other workers at a Volkswagen assembly plant
in Brussels demonstrated by walking off the job. They marched
on the Brussels Justice Palace. In the city of Liege,
firefighters turned on their sirens and turned their hoses on
a building housing the law courts.
"This place needs a good clean-out," as one fireman put it.
Employees of the Swedish furniture store Ikea and hospital
nurses joined about 1,000 people in a protest march in Liege.
Bus companies and steelworkers in southern Belgium stopped
work, and trains in several cities came to a halt. Volvo
workers in Ghent walked out.
General strike urged
The family of a teen-ager allegedly murdered by the child
pornography ring is calling for a general strike Wednesday in
the Flemish province of Limberg.
And plans are in the works for a massive protest Sunday that
organizers hope will attract 1 million people. Two hunger
strikers are fasting to call attention to the issue, and
students staged a sit-in on Brussels' law court steps.
"On Sunday, we want to get a million people marching, the
most that Belgium's ever seen, to show support for the
victims' families who want the judge reinstated," hunger
striker Roland Iandolo said.
Job reassignment possible
Dutroux was jailed in the 1980s for sexually abusing five
children, but was released on good behavior in 1992 after
serving about half of his 13-year sentence.
Police say videos of children he imprisoned in makeshift
dungeons since his release were distributed to pedophile
rings in several countries.
Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck hinted Tuesday that
Connerotte could be given another job in the fight against
child prostitution and kidnappings. He said he would make an
announcement to parliament on the investigation Wednesday.
Despite the public anger, it was considered unlikely that
Connerotte will be reinstated to his former post. A decision
of this type, handed down by Belgium's high court, is rarely
challenged, and it is unknown for it to be overruled.
But the families of two 8-year-old girls who died, Julie
Lejeune and Melissa Russo, are appealing, anyway. They, like
many Belgians, are not ready to take "no" for an answer.
Correspondent Patricia Kelly and The Associated Press
contributed to this report.
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