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1 Sep, 2007 16:32

Beslan remembers school siege

September 1 is a day of mourning in Russia’s southern Republic of North Ossetia. It marks the moment three years ago when terrorists seized control of Beslan's School Number One. More than 1,200 children, teachers and parents were taken hostage.

On Saturday morning people gathered in the ruins of the former school number one to mark the sad anniversary.

The school bell rang at 9:15 a.m. Moscow time, the exact time when the school was seized and the celebration of the Day of Knowledge turned into a nationwide tragedy.

President Putin has called on the country not to forget the tragedy. Speaking at the Day of Knowledge celebrations at a school in Astrakhan, he said the children who died in Beslan three years ago should always be remembered.

“Though this day is a very bright and festive one, I think that nevertheless none of us can forget the tragedy that took place three years ago. We cannot forget the children, who after the tragic events in Beslan, will never go to school. Today we must remember this, no matter what happens in this country and in the world, life goes on,” stressed Vladimir Putin.

Flowers are being laid and a remembrance service has been held to commemorate those who died.

Three years ago today the siege of school number one started in the southern republic of North Ossetia-Alania. Terrorists, demanding that Russia withdraw from Chechnya, took more than 1,200 people hostage.

The hostages were forced into the school’s gymnasium and deprived of food and water for three days until chaos broke out and 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children, and over 700 were injured.

Many aspects of the siege are still disputed – whether weapons were hidden in the school prior to the attack and how many terrorists were involved. Nevertheless for many mothers the main question is how the crossfire that took the lives of so many of their children began. The first official documents published claim the bloody gun battle on September 3 started when a terrorist bomb exploded.

Meanwhile, others hold different opinions.

“The report made by the Deputy Commission states that the explosion occurred inside the gymnasium but there is a member of the commission that believes the explosion was provoked from outside the building,” commented Larisa Khabitsova, Speaker of the North Ossetia Parliament.

The founder of 'Mothers of Beslan' group, Susanna Dudieva, who lost her son and niece, believes the first shot was fired by military forces from a neighbouring rooftop and provoked the violence that erupted.

“We are sure that the first shot was fired into the school and the storming of the school was conducted unprofessionally. Investigators will have to figure out whether or not it was planned or accidental,” she stated.

However, survivor Nadya Badoeva has no doubt the first explosion went off inside the gymnasium just behind her.

“When Special Forces made their way into the school a terrorist threw a grenade that fell close to Nadya. One of the troopers covered the grenade with his body, he fell on top of her and his dead body continued to protect her from the crossfire,” explained Zalina Badoyeva, Nadya’s mother.

Nadya only identified her hero a year after the tragedy, when she found a wreath where Andrey Turkin died.

The investigation continues and might one day bring peace of mind to those whose lives were so cruelly torn apart by a wider conflict in which they played no part.

France too has been remembering the victims of Beslan.  Hundreds observed a minute's silence at a rally held at Trocadero Square in central Paris.  Candles were lit and photographs of the deadly siege were put on display.  Later there was a concert featuring Russian and French performers.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy expressed his condolences to the victims' families, adding that France and Russia would work together in the fight against terrorism.