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Russian Town of Beslan Marks Second Anniversary of School Attack

  • Bill Gasperini

The town of Beslan in southern Russia is today marking the second anniversary of a massacre by Chechen separatists in which more than 330 people died - about half of them children. Though two years have passed, exactly what happened remains unclear.

Millions of children started back to school all across Russia Friday, dressed in their finest clothes and clutching the traditional bouquet of flowers for their teachers.

Once inside their classrooms, the children heard the symbolic ringing of the first bell of the school year.

But a very different bell rang in the town of Beslan, beginning at 9:15 a.m.

It was at 9:15 a.m. two years ago that heavily armed militants seized control of an outdoor ceremony at Beslan School Number One and took more than 1,000 people hostage.

On Friday, hundreds of parents and children walked slowly through the ruins of the school, placing flowers and candles in front of photographs of the 332 people who died.

The death toll rose by one just two weeks ago when a critically injured woman died of wounds she suffered during the siege.

Her death was a stark reminder of a horror that shook Russia to its core, and gave rise to deep cynicism about how the authorities handled the crisis.

A recent poll by the Levada Center found that only a slim margin of Russians believe the government has told the whole truth about what happened.

Relatives of the victims have long accused the authorities of covering up the sequence of events that ended the siege.

They claim that two explosions that led troops to storm the school were caused by the military and not by the Chechen militants inside.

This version was backed recently by a parliament deputy who is part of a commission investigating the tragedy for a report that has been delayed several times.

However, the authorities reject the criticism, saying the blame for the tragedy lies with the militants. The militants were demanding Russia's withdrawal from the southern republic of Chechnya.

Of the more than 30 militants involved in the takeover of the school, only one survived and he was sentenced to life in prison in May. The Chechen warlord who claimed responsibility for the attack, Shamil Basayev, was killed by Russian forces in July.

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