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Sunday, 27 October, 2002, 05:31 GMT
Moscow hostage relatives await news
Armed Russian policeman outside Moscow hospital with anxious relatives
Hostages in hospital are "under virtual arrest"
Distraught relatives have been trying to obtain information from Moscow hospitals about hostages rescued when Russian special forces stormed a theatre held by Chechen rebels.

Hundreds of survivors are still being treated for injuries sustained during the operation to seize control of the building, during which gas was pumped in to overcome the rebels.

Full lists of those who died have still not been compiled by authorities, and the former hostages seem to be "under virtual arrest", according to one Moscow radio station.

We could not save everyone - please forgive us

President Vladimir Putin

Police have asked the medical authorities to keep them in for several more days, to enable them to check whether any of the hostage-takers may be hiding among the victims.

They also want to debrief the hostages to learn more about the rebels.

More than 90 hostages and up to 50 of the rebels died in the storming and its aftermath early on Saturday.

The BBC's Stephen Eke in Moscow said at least nine hostages with breathing problems had since died. The Interior Ministry blamed their deaths on pre-existing medical conditions.

Pictures shown on Russian television of the inside of the theatre showed many of the female Chechen rebels slumped in chairs, indicating that they might have been killed - possibly asphyxiated by the gas - in their sleep.

The authorities have not disclosed what was in the gas.

Putin's apology

Russian President Vladimir Putin made an emotional televised address late on Saturday in which he apologised to families of hostages killed when the theatre was stormed.

However he said the operation had achieved the "next to impossible" by rescuing about 750 people alive.

"We proved that Russia cannot be brought to his knees," he said before giving the message to the relatives and friends of those killed.

"We could not save everyone. Please forgive us."

He thanked the members of the special forces who risked their own lives during the raid, as well as Russian citizens and the international community for the support given against the "common enemy".

Earlier in the day, the Russian leader visited some of the 450 freed hostages who were taken to hospital, some of whom were unconscious when rescued or seriously ill.

Tactics defended

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov has launched a Moscow-wide operation to catch anyone who may have helped the rebels and 30 people have been arrested.

Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev also urged people to be vigilant and to report anyone acting suspiciously to police.

Patrols are also on the streets of Moscow, performing identity spot checks on buses, subways and crossroads.

However Mr Gryzlov has also ordered measures to prevent outbursts of anti-Chechen feeling in Russia, echoing a call for people not to seek revenge by President Putin on Friday.

Gas use defended

Mr Vasilyev defended the tactics of the Russian special forces, saying that everyone in the theatre could have been killed if the mines laid by the rebels had been set off.

Soldiers at the scene of the Moscow theatre siege
The battle between police and rebels lasted more than one hour

"The structure of the building and the threat of an explosion gave evidence that no-one would survive in the building if the explosion was powerful enough. Such is its architecture," he said.

He said he had wanted a negotiated end, but the final attack was made necessary by the killing of hostages.

The raid came within minutes of a deadline set by the guerrillas threatening to start killing hostages if their demands were not met.

Two women hostages were shot dead, sparking panic among the other captives which in turn prompted the raid.

Chechen condemnation

Chechnya's elected President, Aslan Maskhadov, said he felt responsible for those "who resorted to self-sacrifice in despair" though the rebels had nothing to do with official policy.

But, in a statement published on a Chechen website, he said the "barbaric and inhumane policies" of the Russian leadership were ultimately to blame and criticised the storming of the theatre.

Eighteen women were among the 50 rebels killed in the Palace of Culture theatre which they seized to demand the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and an end to the war there.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Jonathan Charles reports from Moscow
"The gas killed some of the hostages and many more are seriously ill"
First Russian Radio's Aliona Muchinskaya
"I feel most people are absolutely unaminously supportive of what Putin did"
Sir Roderic Lyne, British Ambassador to Russia
"Several hundred deaths have been averted"

Siege reports

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Chechen conflict

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26 Oct 02 | Europe
26 Oct 02 | Europe
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