Russian school siege continues

The Russian media reported the kidnappers have been in touch with officials, but that they have refused to allow food or water to be brought into the school.

The hostage-takers are said to be calling for Russian troops to quit Chechnya, but world leaders have condemned the siege and the UN Security Council was due to discuss the recent spate of attacks in Russia.

The attackers are said to be wearing suicide belts laden with explosives, adding to the tension likely to be felt by the hundreds of children, teachers and parents facing a night in captivity.

Russian security forces and police have sealed off the school in Beslan, a town 15km north of Vladikavkaz, capital of the North Ossetia republic, which borders Chechnya.

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

The gang has also threatened to kill children if any of them are hurt by security forces, a regional official said.

“They have said that for every fighter wiped out, they will kill 50 children, and for every fighter wounded, 20,” North Ossetia’s Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev was quoted by Reuters as saying.

There is confusion over the exact number of hostages, but Mr Dzantiev said probably between 300 and 400 people were inside.

The school crisis comes a day after a suspected suicide bombing in Moscow killed 10 people. Last week the mid-air explosions of two passenger planes left 90 dead.

Wednesday was the start of the school term for millions of children across Russia, and parents traditionally attend to make it a day of celebration.

Masked men and women burst into the school, whose pupils are aged seven to 18, at around 0930 local time on Wednesday.

“We were standing in lines next to the gates. Music was being played,” pupil Zaurbek Tsumaratov said after managing to escape.

“I saw three people running in there with sub-machine guns. At first I simply thought it was a joke. Then they began to fire in the air and we ran away.”

Up to 50 children were reported to have escaped in the confusion.

But several people, all adults, were said to have died as a result of the attack.

The event has brought back memories of the hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre by Chechen separatists in 2002, during which 130 spectators died after police used a poison gas when they stormed the building.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned on national television that Russia faced a “war … where the foe is invisible and where there is no frontline.

But Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, through his spokesman in London, denied that his forces were behind the attack, but added that Russia’s actions in Chechnya were responsible for the tragedy.

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