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Russia: Hospitals Start Releasing Former Hostages

Moscow, 27 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Hospitals in Moscow have started to release some of the people held hostage in a Moscow theater by Chechen gunmen. But hundreds remain ill from a mysterious gas used by Russian special troops during the raid on the theater building early yesterday. About 50 people were allowed to leave the hospital today though according to some reports at least 546 of the more than 700 people held captive in the theater were admitted to hospitals after the raid.

Most of those being treated are suffering from the effects of the gas Russian troops used when they raided the theater. The Russian government had still not said what the gas was but the death of at least one person -- a citizen of Kazakhstan -- is being blamed on the it.

At least 160 people died as a result of the hostage crisis.

Meanwhile, Denmark today said it would not attempt to ban a planned international conference on Chechnya in Copenhagen despite Moscow's threat to boycott a Russia-European Union summit in this Scandinavian country.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said his country, which currently chairs the EU rotating presidency, "cannot and does not want to ban" the two-day conference due to begin tomorrow.

The conference is being jointly organized by the Chechen diaspora and the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Moeller said that although his government condemns terrorism, it has no right to prevent "lawful meetings" from being held.

Earlier today Moscow had threatened to boycott the 11 November Russia-EU summit and criticized the Danish authorities for failing to cancel the congress, calling this an "unfriendly act" in light of the recent hostage drama perpetrated by Chechen militants in the Russian capital.