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Russia starts trial of police over Beslan massacre

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Mar 16 (Reuters) A Russian court today began trying three local policemen for failing to stop the 2004 Beslan school massacre but victims' relatives said they were being made scapegoats for the mistakes of their superiors.

The three policemen are the only officials being prosecuted over the bloodbath, which happened after gunmen linked to separatists in Chechnya seized the school. The death toll from the siege was 331 people, half of them children.

Prosecutors told the trial in Beslan that the officers' carelessness allowed the heavily-armed gunmen to slip through a security cordon and reach Beslan.

''As a result of their negligence 331 people died,'' Interfax news agency quoted prosecutors as saying.

Some relatives say high-ranking officials should also be held to account for running a chaotic rescue attempt which many believe made the bloodshed worse.

No senior officials have been publicly punished over the rescue.

''It was not just these three who were to blame for all those deaths,'' Ella Kesayeva, the head of Voice of Beslan, the main pressure group for victims' relatives, told Reuters.

''We are categorically against making these three into scapegoats and heaping all the blame on (them).'' The only alleged hostage-taker to survive, Nurpashi Kulayev, is being tried separately on murder and terrorism charges. A verdict in his case is expected soon.

REUTERS SY PM1828

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