3 September 2004 -- Sporadic explosions followed by sustained gunfire have broken out around a school in Beslan, in Russia's republic of North Ossetia, where militants have been holding hundreds of hostages. Groups of children are being evacuated from the school building, and it appears Russian soldiers have entered the school.
ITAR-TASS and Interfax report that some militants have been attempting to flee from the school in North Ossetia, where they had been holding hundreds of people hostage. Russian forces were seen shooting at them.
Amid the shooting -- whose exact source remains unclear -- a group of hostages is reported to have escaped from the captors. The Interfax news agency reported the roof of the school in Beslan has partly collapsed after a series of explosions.
Shooting continues around the school building in Beslan and ambulances have taken away some wounded. Russian attack helicopters are hovering above the school amid a haze of smoke.
The crisis is in its third day, having begun with the seizing of the school by an undetermined number of attackers. Earlier today, North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov told parents and reporters that the militants are demanding independence for Chechnya.
Dzasokhov also said officials believe the militants have been holding more than 500 hostages at the school in Beslan, revising an earlier official estimate which put the number at some 400.
But this total is disputed by several hostages released yesterday, who said more than 1,000 people are actually inside the school.
(compiled from news agency and television reports)For the latest news on the hostage situation in North Ossetia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Ossetia.