Marc Dutroux ex-wife Michelle Martin released from jail

Belgian convicted paedophile Marc Dutroux's estranged wife Michelle Martin, file pic, 2004
Image caption Martin did not feed two girls left in a dungeon by Dutroux while he served an unrelated jail term

The jailed ex-wife of child killer Marc Dutroux has been released from prison, after Belgium's highest court upheld her transfer to a convent.

The controversial move for Michelle Martin comes 16 years into her 30-year sentence.

Relatives of the pair's victims have expressed outrage over the decision, with one describing it as "absurd".

Earlier, a court in Brussels rejected two appeals against the ruling.

Martin was arrested in 1996 and was finally convicted in 2004 of complicity in the starvation deaths of two girls kidnapped by Dutroux and of helping him in the abduction of a number of others.

Martin did not feed two eight-year-olds who were left in Dutroux's basement dungeon while he served a three-month jail term for an unrelated offence.

Dutroux himself is serving a life sentence for the kidnap and rape of six young and teenage girls. As well as the two who starved to death, Dutroux killed two others.

Police 'incompetence'

Judges at the packed federal Court of Cassation in Brussels rejected the two appeals against Martin's conditional release - one led by Jean-Denis Lejeune, the father of one of the victims, and another by prosecutors.

Martin has gone to the Clarisse convent in Malonne near Namur in southern Belgium, where nuns have agreed to take her in.

She will be free to come and go as she pleases, but under the supervision of nuns and probation workers.

She has been ordered to "keep her distance" from relatives of the victims and will not be allowed to speak to the media about her crimes.

The case generates huge anger in Belgium, says the BBC's Matthew Price in Brussels.

It is not only the vicious nature of the crimes, but the incompetence some say characterised the police investigation.

Both Dutroux and Martin were jailed in the 1980s for kidnapping and raping five young girls, but were freed early on good behaviour - only to go on to abduct more young victims.

Image caption Protesters against the decision to release Martin demanded she serve the full 30-year sentence

Martin's lawyer said she deserved to be given a chance to redeem herself.

"There is something human remaining in Mrs Martin, even though she acknowledges herself she is responsible for very serious acts," Thierry Moreau told AFP.

"She paid the price for it. She did it in respect of the law, and now there is this project where she wants to redeem herself and this will be another way to do her sentence."

A media scrum had reportedly awaited her arrival at the convent, whose walls are said to have already been daubed with graffiti.

"There is only one word for this. This is simply absurd," said Paul Marchal, the father of one of Dutroux's victims. "Concerning Martin, my fight is over and done. I lost."

In 10 years' time she will be eligible for full release into the community, according to an earlier court ruling.

Protesters against the ruling fear that one day it could be Dutroux himself who walks free.

"He is convinced [that will happen] and believes that he too deserves a chance to be reintegrated into society," Dutroux's lawyer Ronny Baudewijn said on Tuesday, according to AFP.

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