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Armed Men Seize School In Southern Russia

1 September 2004 -- A group of armed attackers today stormed a school in the republic of North Ossetia, taking up to 400 people, including 200 schoolchildren, as hostages.

Some of the children managed to escape. One of the students, Zaurbek Tsumartov, said the attackers fired shots, prompting some of the children to flee.

"We were standing by the gate, not in line [with the rest of the students at the school-year-opening ceremony], and they were playing some music [at the ceremony]. Then I saw three men running with automatic rifles. At first I thought it was a joke. Then they started shooting in the air and we ran away," Tsumartov said.

ITAR-TASS reported that two people have been killed and nine injured at or near the school in the town of Beslan.

The some 20 hostage takers are threatening to blow up the building if police try to storm it. Some of the hostage takers reportedly were wearing belts of explosives.

ITAR-TASS also said that the hostage takers are demanding the release of fighters captured in neighboring Ingushetia in June during a rebel raid in the region.

(Compiled from agency reports and RFE/RL's Russian Service)

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