Mourning Russians protest against terrorism

AS the rest of Russia mourned, there was no letup to the agony of the distraught families of Beslan.

The town’s streets were crowded with funeral processions yesterday.

At the muddy cemetery, where gravediggers have opened up two new tracts during the past three days, relatives opened the tiny coffin of eight-year-old Vasily Reshetnyak, touching his forehead and kissing him goodbye.

One of his favourite toys, a red car, was placed alongside the body.

Families, whose missing loved ones have yet to be accounted for as dead or wounded, held an emotional meeting with authorities.

These relatives, clutching photographs of loved ones, exist in the torture of uncertainty. Some claim they even glimpsed their children in the anarchy after the hostage siege ended.

Mzivinari Ochishvili, whose 12-year-old daughter Bella is missing, said: “We have been everywhere, in all the hospitals and in all the morgues. A classmate of hers saw her being taken away in an ambulance and we haven’t heard of her since.”

“Right now, he’s not alive and he’s not dead,” said Boris Tigiev, the father of 14-year-old Soslan, whose fate remains unknown.

Waving flags and banners, hundreds of thousands of Russians demonstrated against terrorism, massing outside the Kremlin in response to calls for solidarity by President Vladimir Putin’s government after the series of deadly attacks that have killed more than 400 people.

The growing crowd stood still for a moment of silence in memory of victims, starting the rally after a clock atop the Kremlin’s Spassky Tower struck 5pm.

The demonstration, organised by a pro-government trade union and advertised on state-controlled television, came as Beslan residents held a third day of funerals for the 330 victims of the siege which officials have blamed on Chechens and other Islamic militants.

Mr Putin has called for unity in vast, multi-ethnic Russia and sought to rally its people against enemies he says have aid from abroad.

Before the rally, prominent actors went on TV urging citizens to attend.

Demonstrators massed under intermittent rain on the cobblestones outside St Basil’s Cathedral, brandishing banners with slogans such as ‘Russia against terror’, ‘We won’t give Russia to terrorists’ and ‘The enemy will be crushed, victory will be ours’.

“I have been crying for so many days and I came here to feel that we are actually together,” said pensioner Vera Danilina, 57.

“We came here to show that we are not indifferent to the series of terrorist acts that have taken place,” said Alexander, an 18-year-old.

There was, however, criticism of the gathering. The website said there was “no doubt that its organisers, in the first place, will express solidarity not with the victims of terrorist acts ... but with President Vladimir Putin.”

In Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital about 18 miles south of Beslan, hundreds gathered on central Freedom Square to castigate local authorities for failing to prevent the tragedy.

“Today we will bury our children and tomorrow we will come here and throw these devils out of their seats, from the lowest director up to ministers and the president,” said a speaker.

A man, identified as a detained hostage-taker, said on state TV he was told radical Chechen rebel Shamil Basayev and separatist former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov were behind the attack.

However a rebel spokesman denied Maskhadov had played any part and said the detainee’s statement was extracted under torture.

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