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Russia: Beslan, Russia, Pay Homage To Victims

Zalina Guburova mourns the death of her son and mother in the siege Russia is marking the first anniversary of the Beslan hostage massacre in which over 330 people lost their lives, more than half of them children. While the small North Ossetian town mourns its dead under intermittent rain, cities across Russia are also paying homage to the victims with remembrance masses and demonstrations.

Moscow, 3 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Beslan today is plunged in mourning as it marks the first anniversary of the bloody battle that ended the school siege and left hundreds of hostages dead.

Since early morning, black-clad mourners have been filing through the cemetery and the gymnasium of Beslan’s school No. 1, where over 1,100 people were held hostage for three days.

They lay flowers and light candles beneath the photographs of their loved-ones, which have been hung on the wall for the anniversary.

The walls of the schools have been draped in red cloth adorned with white doves and messages of condolence. At the entrance of the gym, water flows down two black marbles plaques that symbolize a “wall of tears.”

At 13.05, the start of the chaotic standoff that ended the siege, North Ossetia observed a minute of silence.

Then a bell tolled at the school, as 331 white balloons were released to commemorate each of the victims:

A nine-meter bronze monument portraying grieving mothers and angels is due to be unveiled at the cemetery built specially for the victims on the edge of the town.

Meanwhile, other Russian cities are also paying homage to the memory of the Beslan victims with funeral masses and rallies.

Russia Mourns

In Moscow alone, some 30,000 members of Nashi, a youth movement close to Putin, are expected to gather under the walls of the Kremlin for a silent demonstration.

The Russian capital has also cancelled festivities for its “City Day”, which also falls on 3 September, and moved all celebrations to tomorrow.

In Beslan, however, grief is mixed with anger over what many perceive as the authorities’ failure to prevent the bloodbath.

The Beslan Mothers pressure group has been the most vocal critic, condemning corrupt and incompetent officials for allowing the heavily-armed attackers to reach the school.

They blame the authorities for refusing to enter negotiations with hostage-takers, who were demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, and for trying to cover up mistakes after the massacre.

On 2 September, a handful of Beslan Mothers traveled to the Kremlin to take their concerns to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They had been demanding a meeting for one year.

Speaking to reporters after returning to Beslan late yesterday, Beslan Mothers’ leader Susanna Dudieva described the conversation with Putin, which took place behind closed doors, as “difficult.”

But she said the president had admitted his share of responsibility in the bloodshed.

"The president said he does not relieve himself of responsibility for what happened in Beslan, he feels his guilt for what happened in Beslan," Dudieva said.

Putin, Dudieva said, also promised action to uncover the truth about what really happened in Beslan one year ago.

"He answered all our following questions assuring us that he would do his best to find the truth, so that everyone will know the truth, so that the guilty will be punished and that the sacrifice will not be in vain," Dudieva said.

She added, however, that Putin did not seem aware of many of the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

See also:

RFE/RL Special: Remembering Beslan

Audio Slide Show -- Beslan: One Year Later. Real Player, Windows Media

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