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Belgium marks 25 years since serial killer shocked nation

Belgium on Wednesday commemorated 25 years since hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets outraged at the government bungling in the case of Marc Dutroux, one of history’s most notorious serial killers.

The public outpouring of anger and grief against the acts committed by the paedophile known as the “monster of Charleroi” rocked the country and led to a raft of reforms to Belgium’s discredited justice system.

The march came just months after Dutroux was arrested in August 1996 after a 14-year-old went missing and was later found alive cowering in a basement along with a girl of 12.

The case took an even more gruesome turn when the bodies of the two eight-year-olds were found buried in the garden of his main residence. Less than a month later, the bodies of two more girls were found in another property.

Initial public shock turned to fury as it emerged not only that police had missed a string of clues, but that Dutroux had been released from jail in 1992 after serving three years of a 13-year sentence for the abduction and rape of five girls.

The “White March” in Brussels brought together more than 300,000 people from all over the country in a silent procession where balloons and white roses replaced slogans and banners.

To mark that moment, on Wednesday dozens of white roses were laid at the foot of a sculpture erected in 1997 in memory of the young victims of Dutroux and to all the missing children.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo paid tribute to the “greatness” of the victims’ parents, “who had to bear the worst that can happen to parents”.

Alongside Belgium’s Queen Mathilde, De Croo recalled the “shock” of public opinion when faced with the “horror” of Dutroux’s crimes, calling it a “pivotal moment” in the country’s history.