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Russia to Conduct Parliamentary Probe of School Hostage Siege - 2004-09-11

Russian President Vladimir Putin reversed an earlier stand and has agreed to allow the upper house of Parliament to investigate the recent hostage-taking attack on a school in southern Russia. Close to 340 hostages died in the siege, almost half of them school children.

President Putin gave no reason for his change of plan, as earlier last week he had ruled out any public inquiry into the deadliest terror attack in Russia's history.

The Federation Council, Russia's higher branch of Parliament, will form a commission soon to examine the circumstances of the siege, in which heavily-armed militants held over 1,000 people hostage for more than two days.

The siege ended in a chaotic gun battle on September 3 which was apparently triggered when a bomb inside the school went off accidentally.

Gunmen inside then fired on dozens of children as they fled from the building, and Russian troops and armed civilians outside then returned fire.

Other militants made good on a threat to blow up the school if the troops tried to storm the building, by setting off explosives which caused the roof over the gymnasium to collapse, killing hundreds of hostages who were being held there.

The chaotic and bloody finale to the siege has raised serious questions about the abilities of Russia's security and law enforcement agencies to respond to such situations, including why so many civilians were allowed to take part in the shooting at the school.

More questions have been asked about how the militants were reportedly able to stockpile weapons and explosives inside the school during renovation work over the summer.

Meanwhile, a temporary prime minister has been appointed to lead a new government of North Ossetia where the siege took place, after the former government resigned last week.

However, the president of the region has not resigned, despite a series of demonstrations last week by people who blame him for handling the crisis badly.

President Putin has also come under fire for the way things turned out, especially in Moscow's print media.

However despite this, his political standing remains strong among most Russians, although many are now concerned that new terror strikes might come.

The school siege has been blamed on separatist rebel leaders from breakaway Chechnya, where Russian troops have been fighting for a decade trying to crush a bid for full independence from Russia.

However not all of the hostage takers were from Chechnya. At least four came from the neighboring region of Ingushetia, and at least one was from North Ossetia itself. Up to 10 are believed to be from Arab countries.

In a speech last week President Putin said the siege was intended to stir up ethnic hatred within the volatile North Caucasus region where it took place.