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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK

World: Europe

Belgium clips Angels' wings

Hell's Angels: outlawed in Belgium as a private militia

Belgium has become the first country in the world to declare the Hell's Angels an illegal organisation.

A court in Ghent has ruled that the international motorcycle gang amounts to a private militia - membership of which is banned under Belgian law.

All fully-fledged members of the organisation's Belgium chapter have had their Harley Davidson motorbikes confiscated, along with all Hell's Angels accessories and insignia, including leather jackets and club colours.

And some leaders of the chapter have been sent to prison for up to four years.

Officially accepted

The clampdown follows growing alarm over violent clashes on the continent between Hell's Angels and rival organisations. Trouble has flared in Belgium, Holland and Denmark.

One of the worst incidents came in a clash between Hell's Angels in Belgium and a rival gang called the Outlaws. Ten gang members were subsequently charged with attempted manslaughter.

A major Belgian police inquiry began in the summer of 1997 when the Belgian Hell's Angels club was accepted as an official chapter of the worldwide Hell's Angels organisation.

In February last year, police swooped on the homes of gang members throughout the country.

Many were arrested and charged with offences ranging from extortion and illegal trade in motorcycles, to tax evasion, assault and possession of illegal drugs.

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