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Russia: World Reacts In Horror To Beslan Hostage Drama

Shocked by the deaths of more than 300 people in the Beslan hostage crisis, Russia today began two days of official mourning as the North Ossetian town continued to bury the victims of the siege.

Prague, 6 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Flags flew at half-mast across Russia today as the country began two days of mourning for the victims of the school siege in the country's Republic of North Ossetia. Television entertainment programming was canceled as well.

Russia's distress was shared by many countries around the world. In neighboring Belarus, two days of rallies will be held in solidarity with the Russian people. "We want to support our brother Russians," President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said today.

The Belarusian president noted that his country is ready to provide any support, medical, and rehabilitation aid to the victims of the terrorist act in Beslan.

In Central Asia, people gathered to mourn outside the Russian Embassy in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said European Union foreign ministers meeting on 4 September in The Netherlands expressed "complete solidarity" with Russia.

"I'm quite clear that we will be expressing complete solidarity with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian government, as well as profound sympathy and concern for those poor children and their teachers and their parents and relatives and friends," Straw said.
More than 400 people remain hospitalized and nearly 200 are still unaccounted for.

However, European Commission Romano Prodi questioned the possible responsibility of Russian forces in the massacre. He noted yesterday that there are still "many gray areas."

Prodi's comments followed a statement on 3 September by Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, in which he said countries around the world "would like to know from the Russian authorities how this tragedy could have happened."

Following a fierce reaction from Moscow, Bot claimed he had been misunderstood.

According to the latest figures, 338 people were killed during the three-day crisis -- half of them children. More than 400 people remain hospitalized and nearly 200 are still unaccounted for.

Along with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, many leaders and governments reiterated condemnation of terrorism.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin supported the firm antiterrorism measures the Russian administration said it plans to take in the wake of the attack.

German Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 3 September called for joint action in responding firmly to international terrorism.

"Everyone in Germany is moved with sympathy for the victims and their families, as of course am I," Schroeder said. "I can only comment further once we have some more information on the scale of what happened there. One thing is clear: Here terrorists without conscience tried to reach political goals by murdering people. I am sure everyone will agree that terrorists need to be fought against."

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi confirmed their country's readiness to cooperate closely with Russia in fighting terrorism.

Speaking on 3 September at an election campaign rally in Wisconsin, U.S. President George W. Bush characterized the hostage taking as "another grim reminder of the lengths to which terrorists will go to threaten the civilized world."

"We mourn the innocent lives that have been lost," Bush said. "We stand with the people of Russia. We send them our prayers in this terrible situation."

Some political figures in the Muslim world like Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah stressed that Islam has nothing in common with terrorism.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said the "terrorist attack contradicts all human and religious values."

The many statements of condolences were sometimes accompanied with pledges to help the victims with humanitarian aid. The German and U.S. governments have assigned 100,000 euros and $50,000 respectively for assistance to sufferers.

The Ukrainian presidential press service reported that President Leonid Kuchma instructed his cabinet to provide humanitarian aid to Russia within one week.

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

Factbox: Major Terrorist Incidents Tied To Russian-Chechen War

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