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North Ossetia School Siege Ends in Hail of Gunfire, Dozens Reported Dead  - 2004-09-03


Reports from southern Russia say dozens of people have been killed in the school hostage crisis in the town of Beslan.

Journalists say 100 bodies have been found in the gymnasium where militants had been holding hundreds of hostages since Wednesday.

The Interfax news agency says some fatalities came after the roof collapsed in the gymnasium where hundreds of hostages were held since Wednesday.

The siege has ended in a hail of gunfire and the roar of explosions. Russian commandos stormed the building in the town of Beslan Friday, where militants demanding Chechen independence had been holding hundreds of children and adults since Wednesday.

Smoke is rising from the school, and exchanges of gunfire continue in the area.

Journalists say about 13 militants escaped, pursued by soldiers. Gunfire is also reported near a railway station and a house where the gunmen are believed to have taken shelter. Helicopters are hovering overhead.

Russian news agencies say government forces are in full control of the school building. Russian news agencies report some 400 people injured.

Today's standoff ended in a chaotic scene. Loud explosions and gunfire rang out around the school as dozens of frightened children ran from the building, some of them screaming and covered in blood.

Many of the children were naked or wore only undergarments, possibly because of the heat inside the besieged school building.

It is not clear how many people remained inside the school when the commandos stormed the building. Earlier reports had suggested as many as 1,500 people may have been held at gunpoint. A senior official of the regional Russian government reported the hostage takers said they would free the children only if Moscow granted independence to the neighboring republic of Chechnya, a hotbed of separatist sentiment.

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