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Belgium kills war crimes complaints

By Associated Press
Published September 25, 2003

BRUSSELS - Belgium's highest court dismissed war crimes complaints Wednesday against former President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, ruling the country no longer has a legal basis to charge them.

The decision was expected to improve Belgium's diplomatic relations with the United States and Israel, which hit their lowest points in decades over the complaints. The cases were based on a Belgian law allowing for foreigners to file genocide and war crimes complaints against foreign leaders.

Under international pressure, Parliament amended the 1993 law in August to require that human rights complaints could be filed only if the victim or suspect was a Belgian citizen or long-term resident at the time of the alleged crime. Parliament also guaranteed diplomatic immunity for world leaders and other government officials visiting the country.

The changes brought Belgian law in line with the rest of Western Europe while removing a source of diplomatic friction.

The Bush administration threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Belgium over the country's use of the law to file complaints against world leaders.

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