MALONNE, Belgium -- About 1,000 people protested Friday the planned early release from prison of the ex-wife of a Belgian pedophile who aided her husband's abuse and murder of young girls.
The protest took place in Malonne, 45 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of Brussels, where a convent has offered to take in Michelle Martin, former wife of Marc Dutroux, who is serving life in prison. Martin was convicted of helping her husband kidnap, rape and kill several young girls in the 1990's. She also allowed two 8-year-old girls imprisoned in the basement to die of starvation while Dutroux spent four months in jail for theft.
Residents of Malonne said the idea of having Martin live in the convent was repugnant. "I don't understand how we can release someone who let children die in a cave," said Monique Pire.
The protesters said Martin should not be free to come and go from the convent, which is near three schools. They were not allowed to walk directly in front of the monastery. But in a side street with a view of the convent, they shouted and whistled, then released black and white balloons into the air.
The demonstration was peaceful.
Maxime Prevot, mayor of the nearby city of Namur, who is also responsible for Malonne, said he was concerned about Martin's possible arrival in the village.
"I notified the minister of justice about the public order troubles that are already happening, and for which I am responsible. So one can imagine the significance of the troubles that could happen if the decision is confirmed," Prevot said.
"And I told her it would be impossible for the city to guarantee the security of Michelle Martin and of the nuns, should she actually come to Malonne," he said.
Tommy Scholtes, the spokesman for Belgium's Catholic archbishops, told Associated Press Television News that the decision to take Martin in had been made solely by the nuns in the convent.
"Religious communities are relatively independent, so it means that by themselves they are able – they have the right to decide who they can welcome," Scholtes said.
The case is one of the most sensational in Belgium's recent history. Dutroux, now 55, is serving a life term for kidnapping, torturing and abusing six girls in 1995 and 1996, and murdering four of them. Martin, now 52, was given a 30-year prison term in 2004 for not freeing girls Dutroux held captive behind a secret door in their decrepit, dirty basement in Marcinelle, 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Brussels.
Including the credit given for the time spent in prison before her trial, Martin has served 16 years of her sentence – slightly more than half. She's expected to be released within weeks.