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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 17:06 GMT
Portugal child sex trial begins
A defendant arrives at court in Lisbon
Former Casa Pia driver Carlos Silvino has been held in detention
The trial of seven people accused of forming a child sex ring in Portuguese care homes has begun in Lisbon.

The accused include a TV presenter, a former top diplomat, and a former director of the Casa Pia children's home network.

Abuse at Casa Pia is said to have started in the mid-1970s, but was only discovered in 2002.

About 700 witnesses and 32 alleged victims, some of them under 16 years old, are due to testify in the case.

The scandal has gripped Portugal since it was revealed by a whistleblower.

The alleged abuse took place at the Lisbon-based Casa Pia, a state-run network with 10 homes looking after more than 4,000 children.

Social workers at the homes say more than 100 children still at the institution show signs of having been sexually molested.

'I've never lied'

Parts of central Lisbon were cordoned off and a crowd gathered outside the court to watch the defendants arrive.

The BBC's Alison Roberts in Lisbon says that, despite police help, defendants had trouble pushing their way through the crowd of journalists and members of the public outside the court.

After delays at almost every stage of the investigation, representatives of the former victims say it is most important that the trial finally starts, our correspondent adds.

They can't touch me, there are too many powerful people involved
Carlos Silvino, key defendant
Among those accused are Portuguese television presenter Carlos Cruz and a former ambassador, Jorge Ritto.

Approaching the court on Thursday, Mr Cruz told Portuguese SIC television: "I want, and all Portuguese want, that the truth be found in a rapid manner. I've never lied in my life."

Mr Cruz, who faces five charges of abusing minors and one homosexual act with an adolescent, says he is innocent.

He claims he has been implicated in the case so as to draw attention away from other unspecified crimes at the homes.

Conspiracy to abuse?

The central defendant is Carlos Silvino, a driver for Casa Pia for several years, who is accused of 669 acts of abuse, and allegedly procured children for others to abuse.

Arrest of caretaker
The investigation has involved a number of well-known figures

Mr Silvino, the only defendant being held in detention ahead of the trial, arrived at the Boa Hora court under armed guard and wearing a bullet proof vest.

Approached by a television reporter two years ago and told of the investigation, Mr Silvino allegedly hinted at a high-level conspiracy.

"They can't touch me, there are too many powerful people involved," Reuters reported him as saying.

A former director of Casa Pia, Manuel Abrantes, is also on trial.

A woman, Gertrudes Nunes, is accused of providing her house to be used for abuse.

But a Portuguese judge threw out the cases against ex-government minister Paulo Pedroso, TV comedian Herman Jose and archaeologist Francisco Alves.

An opinion poll published in the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias revealed that 64.3% of people do not believe justice will be done, the AFP news agency reported.

Lawyers say they expect the trial to last until the middle of 2005.

Portugal child sex case dropped
01 Jun 04 |  Europe
Portugal child sex trial starts
28 Oct 03 |  Europe
Portugal scandal MP reinstated
09 Oct 03 |  Europe
Timeline: Portugal
05 Aug 03 |  Country profiles

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