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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 17:58 GMT
Trial torments Belgian town
Emma Jane Kirby
By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC correspondent in Arlon, Belgium

Marc Dutroux wears a bullet-proof vest in a 2000 file photo
Police and media surround the suspect when he appears
Marc Dutroux is Belgium's public enemy number one.

The newspapers describe him as Belgium's most hated man.

His face is etched onto the Belgian psyche and although everybody here would rather forget about him, that is absolutely impossible at the moment.

The little town of Arlon is flooded with journalists - at least 200 different television companies are here beaming Belgium's shame across the world.

Turned away

Many hotels here have refused to take anybody associated with Marc Dutroux.

People will want to know why he was allowed out of prison after serving just three years of a 13-year sentence for raping five young children
His lawyers are having to sleep at the military barracks because no one will put them up.

Emotions are running so high here that even restaurants - which are benefiting from increased trade with so many media crews in town - are giving away a lot of the money they raise to charities connected to the families of the victims.

There is a huge amount of security, including for Mr Dutroux himself, who is making his court appearance in a bullet-proof vest.

Mr Dutroux could begin to give his evidence on Wednesday, and he and his co-defendants - which include his now ex-wife Michelle Martin - will stand behind a special bullet-proof glass cage.

Horrific detail

Security helicopters are constantly buzzing overhead.

There is not an entrance or exit from this court not covered by policemen and camera crews hoping to catch a glimpse of the defendants as they make their way back to prison.

The White March
Thousands of Belgians took to the streets in protest at delays

The whole day has been taken up with swearing in the jury - the 180 people brought to court first thing on Monday morning have now been whittled down to 12 jurors and 12 stand-ins.

But many people made excuses when asked to stand, saying they would be simply too upset and too sensitive to listen to the horrific details of these alleged crimes.

They did not want to have to spend the next four months listening to more and more details of a case that the whole country would like to put behind it.

Many questions

The big question among many is why this case took so long to come to trial.

There have been so many police blunders - including missing clues throughout this whole case.

Police search for evidence of the crimes
Police failed to find two girls held in a house

We know for example that Mr Dutroux was building a dungeon, but police did not act on the tip-offs they received.

They did go to his house while two eight-year-old girls were being kept in the dungeon but could not find them.

We now know the girls starved to death.

Mr Dutroux is a convicted child rapist and people will also want to know why he was allowed out of prison after serving just three years of a 13-year sentence for raping five young children.

The families too will want answers to some of these questions.

Mr Dutroux's lawyers have presented a seven-page dossier supporting his claims to be part of a wider paedophile mafia which he alleges included senior politicians and businessmen.

But the prosecution begins first and they have started to read out the charges of rape, abduction and murder against him.

There is a lot to get through.

It will be a gruelling three to four months for the families, some of whom were already in tears on the first day of their ordeal.




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