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Tensions at  Moscow Theatre Remain Very High - 2002-10-25


Tensions have heightened at the theatre in southeastern Moscow, where hundreds of people are being held hostage by armed Chechens since late Wednesday. Day two of the stand-off started quietly enough, but quickly took a turn for the worse, with a daring escape, gunfire and one confirmed death.

With columns of armored personnel carriers idling, special forces teams scurrying for position, and frantic relatives pacing the street for news of loved ones, the scene at the theatre has taken on a hard edge.

One of the more poignant moments of the day came when a somber-looking Russian FSB spokesman stood in the glare of the media spotlights to read out the names of some of those still trapped inside.

A short while later, the same spokesman reappeared to tell the tale of two 18-year-old women, who managed to leap to safety from the second floor of the theatre amid gunfire.

A 20-year-old woman was not so lucky. She died Thursday from wounds sustained during the raid.

As night fell Thursday, a line of buses more than seven blocks long brought in fresh troops.

We were told by the spokesman that they were to replace Russian police and military personnel, who have now been on duty well over 24 hours. A command and relief center also has since been established.

Looking over the shoulder of the armed police guarding the door of the make-shift center, women and children came into view huddled around TV sets and bottled water.

The former commander of Russian federal troops in Chechnya, speaking on Russian television Thursday, urged people not to confuse, what he called, "Chechen bandits" with the Chechen people overall.

But that appeal failed to sway this woman, who displayed a bravado seen growing in the streets as the crisis drags on.

A woman said she thinks all Chechens need to be driven from Moscow. She also said that if she could, she would strangle the hostage-takers herself. She says they have brought so much grief to so many people.

Throughout the night, the sound of sirens pealed through the air and numerous motorcades raced through the narrow streets, parallel to the stand-off area.

The ongoing negotiations have been characterized as "difficult."

Meanwhile, the scheduled opening in Moscow of the Broadway Musical 42nd Street has been postponed, in a sign of solidarity with the hostages in the theatre.

Looking back to leave, a near full moon shone down on a parking lot full of cars directly outside the doors of the theatre. One lone car door on a truck stood eerily ajar - perhaps a sign of how quickly the siege unfolded when the armed attackers stormed the theatre Wednesday night.

To many still in shock over the attack in Russia, it is as if time has been standing still ever since.

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