BRUSSELS Belgium's most notorious killer launched a bid for early release on Monday, despite little chance of getting parole.
Marc Dutroux, who was convicted of the kidnapping and rape of six girls and the murder of four of them in the 1990s, put his case to judges in a closed-door hearing in Brussels.
The case touches a nerve in Belgium because of the horrific nature of the murders, and the fact that Belgian police visited one of Dutroux's houses while two victims, both eight years old, were being held there without finding them. The two subsequently starved to death in a makeshift dungeon.
Under Belgian law, criminals can be freed after serving a third of their sentences, or after 15 years in the case of those who have received life, a perpetual sentence in Belgium.
However, thousands of protesters called for tougher rules on convicts when Dutroux's ex-wife was granted conditional freedom last year and moved to a convent. She had to request parole several times before it was granted.
Before Monday's hearing, armed police placed razor wire barriers along the side of the courtroom, an unusual security measure in Belgium. Officials also erected a metal detector across the centre of Belgium's main courthouse.
Dutroux, who was arrested in 1996, was sentenced to life in 2004. He served two extra years under a separate charge, meaning he is free to request early release this year.
The court will discuss Dutroux's request with prison officials, and issue its judgement during a public hearing on February 18, although it is not clear if Dutroux will attend.
"The decision of the tribunal will be delivered in a public audience here," Luc Hennaert, court president told reporters after the hearing.
(Reporting by Ben Deighton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)