Russia siege talks break down

“There is no question at the moment of opting for force. There will be a lengthy and tense process of negotiation,” said Valery Andreyev, head of the FSB service in North Ossetia province.

This comes as three hours of phone negotiations between Russian authorities and the hostage takers proved fruitless, with the captors switching the telephones off.

Officials said they offered the militants safe passage out of the region and to exchange the trapped children, some as young as five, with adults, but both were turned down.

Russian snipers and tanks surround the building in the village of Beslan in the republic of North Ossetia, near Chechnya, while anxious relatives gathered nearby, many receiving help from psychiatric counsellors and others crying over the lists of the children trapped inside.

Officials said the hostage-takers were still refusing to accept medicines and water for the hostages, some of whom suffer from diabetes.

The attackers are also believed to have laid trip wires, saying they will blow up the school if stormed by police.

“The situation is quite critical,” said Vyacheslav Karpinov, a doctor at the Beslan hospital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called off a visit to Turkey to confront the fourth act of terror here within a week.

There was conflicting information about the hostage-takers’ demands, with some initial reports saying they sought the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.

Hundreds of relations of the children, teachers and parents taken hostage spent a sleepless night waiting for news in a public building just 150 metres away from the scene of the drama.

“If there were just adults inside then everyone would already be dead. But these are children and I hope that hope will not abandon them,” said Georgy whose three nephews and a niece are trapped in the school.

At least 17 masked and heavily armed people burst into the courtyard of the school in the town of Beslan where students in their parade outfits and flowers and bells in hand were lining up for the traditionally festive first day in school.

Nine adults, including one hostage-taker, were reportedly killed and four injured as a result of the attack.

The father of a young girl was killed as he tried to run after and rescue his child. Other desperate parents were restrained by crack troops as they tried to do the same amid the gun battles.

There are no clear figures on how many people are inside, with officials saying there are 354 hostages, however relatives say lists indicate the figure could be as high as 1,000.

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