BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Lax law enforcement allowed the key suspect in a deadly child-sex ring, and criminals across Belgium, to operate unhindered, a parliamentary panel said Tuesday.

The report rejected accusations that Marc Dutroux _ accused of killing four girls while on parole for previous child-sex convictions _ and his accomplices enjoyed systematic protection from police and justice officials.

But the panel's main conclusion said the probe into Dutroux's activities was so inept that it effectively offered him ``indirect protection.''

Also Tuesday, in response to criticism of Belgium's police that has mounted since the child-sex ring was uncovered in 1996, Premier Jean-Luc Dehaene announced an agreement to create a new national police force, but to leave cities free to manage local forces.

In a report last April, the parliamentary panel recommended streamlining and uniting police forces.

That report detailed police blunders, which it said enabled Dutroux and others to kidnap six young girls and kill at least four of them.

Despite a number of clues and tips, an investigation failed to link Dutroux to the kidnappings and a police search of his home did not find two 8-year-old girls held prisoner in his basement. They later starved to death in a basement cell after Dutroux was arrested for car theft.

``Dutroux benefited from a perfectly passive complicity'' on the part of police, said panel member Nathalie 'T Serclaes.

She called the Dutroux case ``an impressive list of failures and missed opportunities.''

The shoddy investigation was the result of ``a blurring of norms and corrupt behavior'' by police, panel member Renaat Landuyt said in an address to parliament.

Accused alongside Dutroux is Michel Nihoul, who had close ties to magistrates and politicians for whom he allegedly staged sex parties. While that made the officials susceptible to blackmail, the parliament panel said, it found no evidence that they had protected Nihoul.

The report's conclusions were issued two days after the parents of slain children led about 20,000 people through Brussels to demand better law enforcement and government.