Child sex rocks Portugal

Lisbon - A year-long investigation. A case file 13 000 pages long. Televised testimony by boys describing rapes by adults in dark cellars.

And, at last: 10 high-level indictments in an alleged paedophile-ring run from a state children's home - a scandal that has rocked Portugal's trust in its authorities.

Among those indicted were two popular television personalities, a lawmaker, and a retired ambassador.

Prosecutors did not publicly detail their alleged crimes, and the sealed charge sheets threw little light on the intricacies of the case.

Still, the charges may soothe the public clamour for action, which has only grown since a whistleblower broke the scandal last November.

Since then, former officials have said abuse at the home stretched back to the mid-1970s, but authorities did nothing to stop it, sparking suspicion of a high-level cover-up.

Prime Minister José Durao Barroso vowed on Tuesday that magistrates would not flinch from their prosecution in a case that already had undermined the public trust.

Nine men and one woman charged

Wiretaps of questionable legality, constant leaks to the press and missing police records have sharpened the sense of uncertainty.

"The Portuguese people want justice to be done. So do I," said Durao Barroso.

"As prime minister, I have complete confidence in the Portuguese legal system."

Nine men and one woman were charged on Monday with sexually abusing minors and adolescents, rape and organising a paedophile ring at the Casa Pia home. No trial date has been set.

Among those indicted are Herman José, a celebrated comic and host of a Sunday night talk show; Carlos Cruz, a former talk-show and quiz-show host; Paulo Pedroso, a parliamentarian and spokesperson for the main opposition Socialist Party until he became embroiled in the scandal earlier this year; and retired ambassador Jorge Ritto.

In the only other indictment, a long-time male employee at the home, Carlos Silvino, 46, went on trial in October on charges of sexually abusing four boys.

Monday's indictment reportedly levelled a further 662 charges of sexual abuse of children at Silvino, who is also suspected of running the alleged paedophile ring.

Since the case emerged, police have questioned about 600 people. Counsellors who interviewed children at the home say more than 100 boys may have been abused.

President Jorge Sampaio described the case as a national disgrace, and earlier this year addressed the nation on television urging the Portuguese to keep their faith in the justice system.

To that end, the media on Tuesday demanded a quick trial.

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