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Anti-paedophile protest halted - for now
LONDON (CNN/Reuters) -- More than 150 anti-paedophile campaigners in Portsmouth, England have called off their protest while they hold discussions with civic chiefs and police.
Meanwhile, a Belgian newspaper, L' investigateur, is reportedly following the lead of the British paper that sparked the protests, by naming alleged paedophiles. But a judge in Belgium has threatened the editor, Jean Nicolas, with a fine of $20,000 if he ignores a court injunction not to do so.
For a week protesters have demonstrated in the streets demanding alleged child sex offenders be moved away from their estate in the Paulsgrove area of the southern city.
Children have paraded in polo shirts carrying the legend: "Keep Us Safe" and "Protect Me," while others have carried placards with the slogan: "Kill The Paedophiles."
Protests had escalated into mini-riots with police being bombarded with bottles, cars being set alight and windows broken.
Police hope for calm
Hampshire Constabulary spokesman Jeff Hunter told CNN.com: "Our understanding is the protests have been suspended for the moment. But we hope they will be stopped indefinitely while we get a chance to air these problems in a civilised manner.
"We want to resolve this situation, so we have suspended ... all protests tonight," protest spokesman Barry Pettinger said. But he added: "The campaign isn't called off, we still want all paedophiles out of the area."
Four terrified and apparently innocent families with no paedophile links have had to be rehoused as the estate has plunged into chaos night after night. Now police say a fifth has fled, prompting the protesters to meet with council chiefs.
Portsmouth City Council said the protesters had offered to show it their list of alleged child sex offenders.
In a statement it said: "Protesters are meeting tomorrow night to discuss recommendations from their leaders to stop protests and work with the council and police to seek changes in the law on the release of child sex offenders."
Newspaper at head of row
At the centre of the storm is top-selling Sunday tabloid News of the World which last month began publishing names and pictures of dozens of convicted paedophiles to press ministers to allow full public access to a register of offenders.
Under official fire, it suspended its "name and shame" campaign, which was triggered by the abduction and murder in July of an eight-year-old girl, Sarah Payne, but public anger against sex offenders has raged on.
Earlier, Home Office minister Barbara Roche tried to take the sting out of the situation. "We have to have...a period of calm and that is what the government is calling for," she told BBC television.
"If we have demonstrations of this kind, all that it does is to drive these people underground and the police and the probation services and the other agencies lose track of them."
While the largest crowds have gathered in Portsmouth, there have been scattered protests elsewhere. Police said two men charged with child sex offences had killed themselves in the past week in separate incidents, one of them after being targeted by vigilante violence.
A member of parliament for the ruling Labour Party, Robin Corbett, has urged the government to prosecute the News of the World for inciting mob rule. He said the paper must have known its campaign would provoke vigilante violence.
News of the World is pressing for new laws to allow parents, teachers and childcarers to be told as of right if convicted paedophiles move into their area. "These decisions are not decisions for newspapers or others. They are decisions for the police and the probation services," Roche said.
The daughter of leading protester Barry Pettinger told CNN.com: "The protests won't stop if these people are not moved away. So far it has mainly been women and children involved in the demonstrations but if nothing is done the men will get involved."
Lisa Pettinger, a 20-year-old office worker, added: "We didn't know they were living amongst us until they were named in the News of the World."
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