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Belgian protest dismissal of pedophile case 'hero'

crowd 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.


movie icon (23 sec./896K QuickTime movie) Connerotte

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 children.

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 disappeared."

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.

Firemen

"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.

Students

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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