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Russian President Visits Victims Of Hostage Tragedy --> 4 September 2004 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin made a lightning visit early today to the North Ossetian town of Beslan after a school siege there that appears to have killed some 250 people, many of them children.

Russian commandos yesterday stormed a school in Beslan to free some 1,000 hostages held by suspected Chechen militants.

The chaotic battle left at least 250 people dead -- many of them children who had been abducted along with parents and faculty after turning up for the first day of the new school year on 1 September.

Putin told local officials in Beslan today that nobody had wanted to use force against the hostage takers.

"Of course we examined all possible courses of action, but use of force was not planned," Putin said. "Events developed very quickly and unexpectedly. Special forces showed courage."

Putin, who visited some of the victims in hospital, has also ordered North Ossetia's borders closed while authorities search for anyone who might have been connected with the attack.

Officials said 27 hostage takers have been killed and three taken alive. Some of them were reported to be of Arab origin.

No definitive death toll was available, but North Ossetian parliament spokeswoman Fatima Khabalova said 250 people were known to be dead.

North Ossetian Health Minister Boris Dzgoyev said that some 150 bodies have been retrieved from the school so far.


[For more on the North Ossetian hostage tragedy and the wave of recent terrorist violence in Russia, see RFE/RL's "Terror in Russia" page.]