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August 5, 2009

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More Belgian escapees join rush

BELGIAN authorities were chasing three more escaped prisoners yesterday, bringing the total to 12 over the past two weeks.

The ongoing news of escapes has heaped embarrassment on the government, which claims its plans to better secure key jails and courthouses have been held back by budget constraints and administrative burdens.

The justice ministry says the three escaped early yesterday from the sprawling Palace of Justice courthouse in central Brussels when two armed men burst into a court hearing and took them.

Two weeks ago, three convicts broke out of a high-security prison near Bruges when a helicopter flew in to take them away.

Last week, six prisoners escaped from a prison near the port city of Antwerp by scaling the wall with a ladder.

Five of the escaped inmates have been caught again, but seven remain at large.

There have been plans to put nets over exercise yards to make it impossible for helicopters to land, but implementation has been slow.

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Plans to seal off parts of the building to secure the Palace of Justice, one of Brussels' best-known landmarks, have been met with opposition from a foundation.

It is seeking to protect the 19th century structure, whose 132-meter-high dome hulks over the capital.

"It is an icon for Belgium and the capital. It is a monument of beautiful architecture but it cannot be secured," complained Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck.

There had already been a similar escape from the Palace of Justice in January.

De Clerck told VRT Television he had a plan to seal off a section of the building for high-security cases "but it clashed with the concept of the heritage foundation."


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