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Shooting, Explosions Continue Around North Ossetian School

3 September 2004 -- Shooting and explosions continue around the school in the Russian republic of North Ossetia that has been the scene of a three-day hostage crisis.

Earlier today, Russian forces stormed the building in hopes of ending the siege. RFE/RL correspondent Tatiana Sobol, reporting from the scene, described the lead-up to the assault.

"The assault began after emergency ministry workers were allowed [by the hostage takers] to take the dead bodies of killed hostages away from the territory of the school, after which intensive shooting began. At first there were two explosions, then the shooting intensified," Sobol said.

As the rescue operation got under way, large groups of children began streaming out of the school building, some half-naked, others on stretchers, to be reunited with anxious parents. Interfax now reports all hostages have been taken out of the school.

There were also reports of militants attempting to flee the scene, being pursued by Russian commandos.

Amid the chaotic developments, there were no clear figures on casualties although local hospitals said they had received some 150 to 200 wounded.

Officials earlier today said more than 500 hostages were being held in the school by an estimated 20 militants. Officials said the militants' main demand was independence for Chechnya.

(compiled from agency and staff reports)

For the latest news on the hostage situation in North Ossetia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Ossetia.

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