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Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 17:19 UK

Austria to change sex crime law

A central square in Amstetten, Austria
The Amstetten case has raised questions about Austria's police

Austria's chancellor has said the country will adopt tougher laws on sex crimes following the case of a man who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years.

Josef Fritzl has admitted holding his daughter captive in the cellar of the family home, repeatedly raping her.

He fathered seven children with her, three of whom officials allowed Mr Fritzl to either adopt or foster.

Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said the new measures would aim to prevent children becoming victims of abuse.

"In the question of violence against children, there can be no compromises," he said, adding that convicted sex criminals should not be allowed to either adopt children or work with young people.

Permanent record

Mr Gusenbauer said that criminal records of sex offenders would be held on file for far longer.

Josef Fritzl

Mr Fritzl was convicted of rape in 1967 and was sentenced to a term in prison.

However, under current Austrian law, unless the crime carries a life sentence, a conviction must be removed after no more than 15 years.

Mr Fritzl was allowed officially to become responsible for the care of three of the seven children he fathered with his daughter, Elisabeth, adopting one child and fostering two more.

The chancellor said the time limit for offences to remain on the record would now be lengthened to 30 years and serious offences would remain permanently. The measures, if approved, are expected to come into effect early next year.

'Gullible'

Earlier, Austrian Justice Minister Maria Berger said the police had been too easily fooled into accepting Mr Fritzl's account that his daughter ran away to join a cult.

Ms Berger told Austria's Der Standard newspaper: "Looking at everything that we know up to now, I can see a certain gullibility - especially when it comes to that tale that she had joined a sect, with which the suspect explained the disappearance of his daughter."

She said she was certain that such an account would have been more closely examined if presented to the authorities today.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have talked to Mr Fritzl for the first time since his arrest 10 days ago.

A spokesman said the meeting covered his personal history but not the allegations against him.

He said investigating prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser had described the suspect as "co-operative" during the interview, which lasted about an hour-and-a-half.

The next meeting, he said, would not take place for at least another two weeks.




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