Sun, Sep 04, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Beslan grieves again as it marks end of tragedy

AFP , BESLAN, RUSSIA

Fighting to stifle anguished cries, survivors of the Beslan tragedy and relatives of more than 300 dead hostages observed a minute of silence yesterday at the ruins of School Number One on the anniversary of the bloody finale to the tragedy.

Gathering under rain clouds, about 1,500 mourners stood in and around the ruins of the school to observe a minute of silence at 1:05pm, the precise moment when Russian rescue forces a year ago launched a chaotic attempt to rescue more than 1,100 hostages.

Only the sound of sobbing interrupted the silence.

"It was raining a year ago. It's a sign that God is crying with us," said Viktor Esiyev, who lost his son in the siege.

Across Russia ceremonies were held to commemorate the tragedy, which was a sharp reminder of the instability caused by the decade-old war in Chechnya, and which prompted President Vladimir Putin to significantly boost his grip on power.

Fierce criticism in Beslan over the conduct of officials and law enforcement during the three-day crisis has also become a major political issue.

The Beslan tragedy began last year on Sept. 1 when gunmen seized more than 1,100 students, parents and teachers while they celebrated the start to the academic year. It ended on Sept. 3 in a battle so fierce that much of the school was destroyed by fire and blast.

On Friday, the local Beslan Mothers Committee was able, after a year of requests, to take these concerns to Putin himself. Committee chairwoman Susanna Dudiyeva said that Putin "promised that we soon will see a real change in the situation, that the truth will be revealed and that the guilty will be named."

In the first concrete evidence that Putin has taken the Beslan mothers' criticism to heart, he ordered the prosecutor general yesterday to send a fact-finding team to Beslan to look into each of their claims.

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