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No-Confidence Vote Fails in Belgium

April 28, 1998

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The chief of Belgium’s largest police force resigned Tuesday, the third key official to step down after the brief escape of a child-murder suspect led to outraged calls for judicial reforms.

Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene announced the resignation in parliament just hours before his center-left government survived a no-confidence motion.

The flurry of resignations was aimed at restoring badly shaken public confidence in the nation’s police and justice systems after the escape Thursday of Marc Dutroux, a convicted rapist charged with sexually abusing six young girls and killing four of them.

Dehaene has been under pressure to explain how Belgium’s most notorious prisoner was able to overpower a state police officer in a lightly guarded courthouse, steal his gun and flee in a car he hijacked outside the building. He was captured after a three-hour manhunt.

Speaking to a packed parliament Tuesday, Dehaene called Lt. Gen. Willy Deridder’s resignation as chief of state police ``an honorable gesture″ and urged other embattled officials to follow suit. The country’s justice and interior ministers stepped down last week.

The ruling Socialist and Christian Democrat parties backed Dehaene in Tuesday’s no-confidence vote, arguing the three resignations were an important signal to the nation. The coalition controls 81 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives. The vote was 81-64 with one abstention.

Opposition parties said the escape showed the government’s inability to reform inept law enforcement agencies two years after the discovery of the young victims’ bodies on Dutroux’s property created a nationwide scandal.

``This cannot continue. We cannot continue to sacrifice the security of our citizens,″ said Patrick Dewael, leader of the Flemish Liberal Democrats, the biggest opposition party.

Dehaene used Tuesday’s four-hour debate to focus on judicial reforms that have been stalled in parliament, asking for the opposition’s help in passing the reforms.

Outside the courthouse, the parents of missing and slain children joined hundreds of demonstrators who demanded the government’s dismissal and the resignation of police and justice officials involved in the Dutroux case.

The government has opened an inquiry into Dutroux’s escape and promised sanctions.

Two years ago, the rescue of two young girls hidden in Dutroux’s cellar and the later discovery of the four slain girls’ bodies prompted two parliamentary investigations that condemned the inefficiency of Belgian law enforcement agencies.

Dutroux was arrested in August 1996 with other suspects, including his wife, Michelle Martin. His trial is set for late fall.

Dutroux received a 13-year sentence in 1989 for raping five girls but was released early.

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