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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 22:32 GMT
Portugal child sex charges issued
arrest of caretaker
The investigation began more than a year ago
Portuguese prosecutors have charged 10 people with the sexual abuse of disturbed children in state-run homes.

The former employment minister in the last Socialist government, Paulo Pedroso, and former ambassador to South Africa Jorge Ritto are among them.

Police have spent more than a year investigating allegations that children from the Casa Pia homes in the capital were abused by a paedophile ring.

Mr Pedroso says he is the victim of a smear campaign and denies the charges.

The case has outraged Portugal and shaken public trust in the authorities.

President Jorge Sampaio has described it as a "national disgrace".

The case is regarded as the first test of the country's legal system since it returned to democracy in 1974 following nearly five decades of dictatorship.

Children's allegations

Attorney General Jose Souto Moura said the 10 were indicted on charges of sexually abusing minors, rape and organising a paedophile ring.

children praying
As many as 100 children from Casa Pia were allegedly molested
They also include television presenters Carlos Cruz and Herman Jose.

Mr Pedroso spent more than four months in custody before a criminal court ordered his release on probation in October.

The former minister, who had been tipped as a potential leader of the Socialist Party, said in a statement he had asked to have his parliamentary immunity lifted so that he could be tried and clear his name.

No trial date has yet been set.

Driver 'procurer'

A number of children cared for by Casa Pia have made allegations of abuse.

Staff at the network of 10 children's homes, which currently has 4,600 children in its care, have said they believe more than 100 boys and girls currently with them may have been abused.

The investigation began in November 2002 after Portuguese media reported that a driver at Casa Pia had helped wealthy alleged child molesters meet youngsters in his care since 1975.

The driver, Carlos Silvino, is already facing trial over charges of sexually abusing children in his care.

Mr Silvino, 46, faces 35 charges of sexually molesting four children over a three-year period. His alleged victims include a boy with mental disabilities, and another who is deaf and mute.

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