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Russia: Bereaved Beslan Mothers Give Up Protest, But Not Fight

Almost one year after their children were killed in a school hostage massacre, parents in the North Ossetian town of Beslan are still struggling to come to terms with their grief. But another feeling is simmering as well: bitter anger towards the authorities. Beslan mothers staged a 28-hour protest in the Vladikavkaz courthouse where the sole surviving hostage-taker is being tried. They demanded that top officials, including President Vladimir Putin, also be held to account for the bloodbath. Their pleas, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Moscow, 24 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Nurpashi Kulaev, the only known hostage-taker taken alive, has been on trial since last spring in the regional capital of Vladikavkaz.

But yesterday, the trial took an unexpected turn when a dozen Beslan mothers refused to leave the courtroom after the hearings.

These women all lost children in the hostage tragedy began almost one year ago -- on 1 September 2004 -- that ravaged the small town of Beslan.

Marina Pak lost her daughter in the siege. She spoke to RFE/RL by phone from inside the courtroom while the protest was still under way. She said all officials involved in the hostage crisis have to be held to account.

“We have grievances against the investigation. We demand an objective investigation. This means no official should bear responsibility for another. Nobody should be able to hide behind anyone else’s back,” Pak said.
"It is almost a year since our children have not been next to us. They are in the cemetery. Not a single person has been punished for this evil they did."

And those to blame for the deaths, she added, include Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The women belong to the “Beslan Mothers” pressure group. They have repeatedly blamed officials for allowing attackers to seize School Number One in Beslan and for failing to prevent the bloodbath that ended the siege.

Half of the 331 people who lost their lives in the tragedy were children.

Another mother, Rita Sidakova, joined protesters outside the courthouse today. She told Reuters that Russian prosecutors had failed to uncover the truth about the hostage-taking.

"It is almost a year since our children have not been next to us. They are in the cemetery. Not a single person has been punished for this evil they did," Sidakova said.

The protesters inside the courthouse briefly emerged last night to say they would not leave until Nikolai Shepel, Russia's deputy prosecutor-general responsible for the North Caucasus, personally takes their demands into account.

State prosecutors were quick to respond. They warned the action was illegal and released a statement condemning it as an attempt to pressure the judges. The statement was also distributed to the women inside the courthouse.

The protest rapidly turned into a trial of strength between Shepel and the Beslan mothers. And after 28 hours in the courthouse, the women, looking worn and tired, gave up and returned to their homes empty-handed.

But Suzanna Dudiyeva, who heads the Beslan Mothers Committee, says the protest is not over and will continue in some other form.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service after leaving the courthouse, she said the Beslan Mothers have no longer any desire to meet with Shepel.

“He [Shepel] declared he was willing to receive us, but only at the prosecutor’s office. He refused to come to see us, women who had been waiting for him for more than 24 hours. We waited for him a little longer and now we declare that we don’t want to meet him anymore,” Dudiyeva said.

Another of the Beslan Mothers’ key request is for Kulaev’s trial to be merged into one single case against all those with a share of responsibility in the tragedy.

The lawyer for the Beslan victims, Taimuraz Chejemov, says dividing the Beslan case into separate proceedings actually violates the law.

“The bodies in charge of the preliminary investigation have artificially divided up the case on the terrorist act into a series of cases. In our opinion, this is unfounded, pointless. This division of the case is also absolutely illegal,” Chejemov said.

The Beslan tragedy broke out when heavily-armed gunmen took over 1,000 people hostage in a school on the first day of classes.

The grueling siege lasted three days and shocked the whole world. It culminated in a chaotic standoff between Russian forces and the hostage-takers in which many of the hostages were killed.

See also:

"Beslan Mothers Protest Ahead Of Anniversary"

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