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Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Belgian press mourns dead girls
By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC News, Brussels

Missing Belgian girls Nathalie Mahy (left) and Stacy Lemmens
The two girls disappeared late at night during a street party
For the past three weeks in Belgium, the smiling faces of seven-year-old Stacy Lemmens and her 10-year-old step-sister Nathalie Mahy have stared out from every front page of every newspaper.

The murdered Liege schoolgirls have dominated news coverage here and today Le Soir carries a photograph of their coffins being taken into the mortuary.

A sensitive front-page article informs readers of the results of the post-mortem examination - both girls were strangled and Nathalie, raped.

Le Soir suggests the sexual assault is mounting evidence against the chief suspect - Abdallah Ait Oud, a 38-year-old convicted paedophile seen close to the girls at the time of their disappearance. He denies all charges.

"The net closes in around Abdallah Ait Oud" is also the headline of La Libre Belgique, which has a poignant photo of a folded note, torn from an exercise book and addressed to Stacy in a child's hand.

The note is lying in the dirt, close to the spot where the girls died, a single white lily weighting it.

Police found the bodies near a railway track in Liege

The paper looks back, perhaps inevitably, to the crimes of paedophile Marc Dutroux and says: "Things have changed since Dutroux... the victims and children are better protected, and better care is taken of offenders."

But the paper adds ominously: "at least in theory".

An editorial worries that a recent survey shows 56% of Belgians want to see the death penalty reintroduced for child murderers, but warns in such times of heightened emotion, reason must prevail.

La Libre Belgique praises the justice system and the police operations and says more effort must be made now to improve the monitoring system for paedophiles who have been paroled.

The tabloid paper La Capitale carries readers' responses to the tragedy. Many who give their opinion ask for the automatic castration of paedophiles or the death penalty, warning time has proved sex offenders cannot be cured.

Readers complain that the Belgian justice system is too lax and argue they don't want sex offenders reintegrated into their communities.

Suspect Abdallah Ait Oud
Abdallah Ait Oud has been charged with kidnapping
De Standaard, one of the Flemish papers, has a bold headline: "Murdered out of Lust" and calls Abdallah Ait Oud the "dream suspect," listing all the evidence against him.

Its competitor, the Flemish paper De Morgen, speculates whether DNA tests might reveal the murderer had an accomplice, but hopes at least the results will give definitive proof of the guilt or innocence of the man charged with the crimes.

The paper comments on police interest in a new witness, who claims he saw Abdallah Ait Oud covered in mud on the night of the children's disappearance. And the front page shows a bitterly ironic photograph - two little girls, one blonde like Nathalie, one dark like Stacy, crouched down in front of the makeshift memorial, while the faces of the dead children smile back at them from posters.

Nathalie Mahy 's funeral, which will be a private, family event will take place on Saturday in Cointe, Liege.

The funeral of Stacy Lemmens will be held on Monday at Saint-Leonard, Liege.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See police conducting their search for the children



SEE ALSO
Profile: Marc Dutroux
17 Jun 04 |  Europe
Belgium's trial of shame
17 Jun 04 |  Europe

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