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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Russia buries siege dead, Putin vows no surrender

MOSCOW (REUTERS) — Russia prepares to bury its dead Tuesday from the Moscow theater siege, its leaders anxious to portray the Chechen conflict that fueled it as another front in the international war on terrorism.

“Russia will make no deals with terrorists and will not give in to any blackmail,” Russian news agencies quoted President Vladimir Putin as telling government ministers.

Putin said Moscow would respond in “appropriate” fashion to any threat to use weapons of mass destruction against Russia.

Mainstream separatist Chechen leaders, who accuse Russian forces of brutality away from the world’s gaze in their mostly Muslim southern region, disowned the Chechen theater hostage-takers as “terrorists” Monday.

They again offered to sit down for talks with Moscow — an offer the Russian government has in the past largely refused and which Putin showed no sign of taking up now.

Of 117 captives who died in the siege, all but two were killed by a mysterious gas pumped into the theater by security forces in an attempt to incapacitate the 50 or so Chechens holding more than 750 hostage, before Russian forces stormed in.

Angry questions about the nature of the knockout agent grew louder. But Putin came out guns blazing, making no reference to the gas, which Russian authorities have refused to identify and vowing not to deal with terrorists or succumb to threats.

Leaders of the United States and Britain came out in support of Moscow’s siege tactics, saying Putin had little choice.

British Prime Minster Tony Blair told his parliament there were “no easy, no risk-free, no safe solutions” to what he described as “this latest outrage of terrorism from Chechnya.”

The United States said it had asked Russia to explain the special forces’ assault on the theater and to identify the gas.

But a spokesman quoted President Bush as saying he blamed terrorists for the deaths, not the Russian government.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s emphasis appeared different. “France has always said and says it again today: the only solution to these warring tensions is political dialogue,” he said. “Violence only breeds violence.”

Britons and Americans were among the hostages. U.S. embassy officials said they had found what they believed to be the body of one U.S. citizen but were awaiting final identification.

They found another American who was in a stable condition in a hospital and a U.S. permanent resident who was recuperating from injuries, a State Department spokesman said.

Interfax news agency quoted Moscow city officials as saying the first victims’ funerals were expected to take place Tuesday. Rossiya television said Moscow authorities would organize the burials and pay compensation of 100,000 roubles ($3,151) to victims’ families and 50,000 roubles to survivors.

Frustrated relatives of former hostages maintained a vigil outside hospitals, laden with flowers and gifts, desperately hoping for news. Of more than 600 in hospitals Sunday, about half were home by Monday, medical staff told Russian media.

The siege began Wednesday evening when Chechen separatists seized a packed Moscow theater as the second act of a musical began. They demanded an end to the war in their separatist homeland and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Chechens, who have chafed at Russian rule for two centuries, complain they are an oppressed minority inside Russia. Moscow, which first sent in troops in 1994, sees an independent Chechnya as destabilizing the sensitive Caucasus region and setting an unwelcome precedent for other disaffected ethnic groups.

Troops stormed the theater after using the mystery gas to stop the “suicide squad” detonating explosives strapped to their bodies and rigged throughout the building.

Tuesday’s edition of Izvestia daily quoted an official from the FSB security service as saying a policeman suspected of aiding the guerrillas being questioned.

He was believed to have been in touch with their leader, Movsar Barayev, by mobile telephone during the siege and had fed him information from staff headquarters.

Deni Teps, chairman of a World Chechen Congress that opened in Copenhagen Monday to Russian protests, told Reuters the mainstream rebel leadership condemned the hostage-takers.

“Of course, no talks with terrorists should be possible,” he said. “We don’t accept the point of view that the Chechen government is any way linked with terrorists.”

Fugitive Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov has also condemned the incident. The former Soviet army colonel was elected in 1997 after defeating Russian forces. But he struggled to stamp his authority on warlords and radical Islamists before being pushed into hiding when Putin sent troops in again in 1999.

“President Maskhadov, as before, is ready without any preconditions to sit at the negotiating table. It is up to the Russian leadership,” a senior aide, Akhmed Zakayev, said.

But Putin’s grim comments appeared to slam the door on any talks and strengthen the hand of hawks in his administration.

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