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Victims of Moscow Hostage Crisis Sue Municipality - 2002-12-24

A Russian court Tuesday began considering a lawsuit brought by victims of the Moscow hostage crisis, who are seeking compensation from the city of Moscow.

The 38 plaintiffs in the case are asking for almost $40 million in compensation.

Some of the plaintiffs were hostages during the almost three-day long crisis this October, in which Chechen gunmen took hundreds of people captive. Other plaintiffs had family members who died during the siege.

One hundred and twenty-nine hostages died, almost all from the effects of gas used by Russian forces to subdue the gunmen.

Tuesday's hearing was closed to the press, but the lawyer representing the victims, Igor Trunov, said a trial date was set for January 16. He said his clients were also asked to provide documentation showing how much income they lost, because a family member died in the crisis.

Mr. Trunov said the Moscow city government has no option under the law except to pay the compensation.

Some of his clients also attended Tuesday's hearing. One of them was Tatiana Karpova whose oldest son died in the hostage crisis.

Ms. Karpova said she is not going to become rich as a result of this case but she said at least it will publicize what happened to her son and others.

Mr. Trunov, the lawyer in the case, is arguing that his clients are entitled to compensation from the Moscow city government because according to a federal law on terrorism, victims of terrorist acts can claim compensation from the city where the act occurred.

But Moscow officials have criticized the case, saying they are not responsible for the ongoing war in Chechnya or its repercussions. Russian troops have been fighting separatists in Chechnya for more than four years.

The government has already paid some money to the victims of the hostage crisis, but many say it is not enough.

Plaintiff Zoya Chernetsova's son also died in the siege.

Ms. Chernetsova said the money didn't even cover the cost of her son's funeral. She said the government gave the families coffins that were too small for her tall son, so she had to buy another one.

Such compensation cases are rare in Russia. Mr. Trunov said after living through decades of communist repression, people in Russia are still afraid to demand their rights from the state. Analysts say this case could change that.

The case is not expected to end quickly, but plaintiffs say they will fight to the end for what they feel is proper compensation for their suffering.