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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Foreign hostages sue Russia

By Nikolai Gorshkov
BBC Moscow correspondent

A court in Moscow has opened preliminary hearings in a lawsuit filed by foreign nationals for damages sustained in the hostage siege in a Moscow theatre last October.

Most hostages died of gas poisoning
Nearly 800 people were held hostage by Chechen gunmen for three days - 129 hostages died when special forces pumped sleeping gas into the theatre to knock out the attackers.

At the start of the hearing, the Russian Finance Ministry representatives rejected the claim, saying they would not seek an out-of-court settlement.

The plaintiffs' lawyer has promised to take their case to the European Court in Strasbourg if there is no settlement with the Russian authorities.

'Wider action'

Two US residents, a national of Kazakhstan and a Ukrainian are suing the Russian Government for the loss of their next of kin during the storming of the theatre.

Dutch national Oleg Zhirov lost his wife during the siege and said the health of his son had been affected
Dutch national Oleg Zhirov lost his wife during the siege

Between them, they are claiming $9.5m in damages.

This is part of a wider action by the Russian survivors of the siege and the victims' relatives.

They have filed 61 suits for damages of over $40m.

Twenty-three have been thrown out by the judges so far.

The Russian authorities say they have already paid compensation to every family affected by the siege, but the plaintiffs say it is too small to cover for their losses.

The plaintiffs hold the authorities responsible for failing to prevent the theatre raid in the first place.

Setting precedent

They suggest that emergency officials were negligent in organising the evacuation of mostly unconscious hostages after the special forces stormed the theatre.

They also want to set a precedent for automatic comprehensive compensation for victims of any future calamities like this.

As one claimant put it, next time the authorities would have to be more careful in choosing how to solve the problem.

Theatre honours hostage victims
10 Nov 02  |  Europe
How special forces ended siege
29 Oct 02  |  Europe

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