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Thousands Attend Funerals As Russia Mourns

6 September 2004 -- Thousands of people turned out in the southern Russian town of Beslan today for the funerals of more than 100 of the victims of last week's school siege in the town.

Officials now say 335 people, half of them children, died as the school siege in North Ossetia ended in chaotic gunfire and explosions on 3 September.

More than 400 people remain in hospital, and dozens are still unaccounted for.

On 1 September, gunmen took some 1,000 people hostage at Beslan's No. 1 middle school. Russian security forces stormed the school two days later to end the stand-off, sparking a bloodbath.

Today, many questions remain unanswered, including who the hostage takers were and what prompted Russian forces to take action when they did.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 4 September blamed what he called international terrorists and vowed to overhaul the security services. Others have criticized the president, blaming Russia's hard-line policies in Chechnya for provoking the militants.

Flags around the country are flying at half-mast today -- the first day of two days of national mourning. Entertainment programs will not be broadcast on television.

Russian television yesterday broadcast an interview with an unidentified man authorities say was one of the hostage takers. In the interview, the man expresses regret for the incident. "I swear to Allah, I pitied the children," he said. "I didn't shoot. I have kids myself. I swear to Allah. I didn't shoot. I swear I didn't shoot."

In St. Petersburg today, some 15,000 people rallied in remembrance of the Beslan victims and in condemnation of terrorism.

Factbox: Major Terrorist Incidents Tied To Russian-Chechen War

For full coverage on the recent wave of terror attacks in Russia, see RFE/RL's webpage on "Terror In Russia".