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German Press Review: The World Watches Belgium

The opening of the Dutroux pedophile trial in Belgium was a major topic in Tuesday’s German papers, which also commented on the aftermath of the CDU victory in the local elections in Hamburg at the weekend.

It took the police and the justice system nearly eight years to press charges against Marc Dutroux, a fact which left the Hamburger Abendblatt aghast. Belgians were right to ask why it had taken the state so long to bring a pervert and his three helpers to court, it commented. The paper also asked why the authorities reacted with panic to the suspicion that Dutroux may have been just the tip of the iceberg in a larger pedophile ring? After all the scandals surrounding the investigation process, the fact that the trial had begun at all was almost a miracle, the paper observed.

The Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung remarked that the history of the investigation placed enormous pressure on the court. It listed scandalous police failures, the resignation of government ministers, the mysterious accidental deaths of people involved in the investigation, as well as the conspiracy theories, according to which Dutroux was part of a bigger criminal network and was being protected at the highest level. The paper admitted that it didn't envy the judges and jury. With the most hated man in Belgium sitting before them, it would be very hard to reach an independent verdict without being influenced by popular anger, the paper believed.

And the Dresdner Neue Nachrichten wrote that the trial was the biggest test that Belgium had had to face. Nothing had been the same in the little country since the Dutroux case, and with the whole world looking on, the trial could not afford to leave any open questions or any lingering doubts, the paper said, adding that it was a question of restoring and regaining trust.

Continuing with analysis of the Hamburg local election result at the weekend, the Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf wrote that the more the conservative CDU and its Bavarian sister CSU party continued to profit from public discontent with the ruling SPD, the more they would outgrow their opposition role. At some point in this elections year, the paper predicted, the SPD would have taken such a beating that the public would perceive the conservative union as being on its way to taking over the captain’s role. But, the paper asked, was it qualified to do so? It pointed out that the conservatives would have to submit a logical reform plan which was attractive to the public.

The Hamburg-based mass-circulation Bild Zeitung declared that the conservatives’ sensational victory in the city had caused spectators to rub their eyes and wonder what had come over the voters. The extreme fluctuations in the various parties’ fortunes in recent years showed that voters were clearly having fun casting their ballots, the paper thought. In the past, you were born either an SPD or CDU voter, but the Hamburg result showed that this was no longer the case. And Bild concluded that it was good for German democracy that elections in the country had become so exciting again.

Finally, like many papers, the General-Anzeiger in Bonn commented that after its triumph in Hamburg, the CDU should make this week a decisive one and end the long-running speculation over its candidate for German president. In the paper's view, too many names had been bandied about for too long. The General-Anzeiger expected the conservatives and the business-friendly FDP now to agree on the man who, in its view, was the outstanding candidate: former interior minister and ex-CDU leader Wolfgang Schäuble.