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Belgium To Reform Police, Justice

May 24, 1998

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The government and opposition parties agreed Sunday to restructure the police and justice system, a month after the brief escape of child-murder suspect Marc Dutroux led to calls for reform.

The four centre-left government parties and four main opposition parties agreed after several hours of talks that there would be a unified federal police and a single police force at district level. The military-style gendarmerie and municipal police will no longer exist.

In the area of justice, the parties to create an independent high council that would appoint officials and monitor the legal system. They also agreed to set up a federal prosecution office.

The reforms come one month after Dutroux’s three-hour dash for freedom shocked Belgium and re-opened a national debate on the inefficiency of the country’s judicial and police system.

Belgium’s justice and interior ministers, as well as the head of Belgium’s largest police force stepped down, but calls continued for thorough administrative reforms.

Dutroux was arrested in August 1996. Two 8-year-old girls were found dead on his property. They had allegedly been abused for months before starving to death at Dutroux’s home near the southern city of Charleroi.

Two teen-age girls were also found dead at another of Dutroux’s houses, and two other sexually abused girls were rescued alive by police.

Outrage over the case was compounded by evidence of police bungling in the search for the missing girls.

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