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Monday, 28 October, 2002, 04:38 GMT
Anger grows over Moscow gas mystery
Relatives are still looking for answers
Police have not been letting relatives into hospitals
The Russian authorities are under renewed pressure to provide details of the gas used by troops who stormed a Moscow theatre on Saturday in which hundreds of people were being held hostage by Chechen rebels.

It is now admitted that almost all the hostages who died in the operation by special forces were killed by the poisonous substance.

Families and friends of those who died are also demanding that the Russian Government explain exactly what happened when the building was stormed.

President Vladimir Putin went on television late on Saturday to apologise for the deaths.

Medics attend an unidentified hostage outside the theatre
Many hostages remain in a serious condition
A day of national mourning has been declared across the country on Monday for the 117 hostages who died when the three-day siege was ended.

The head of Moscow's city health committee, Andrei Seltovsky, told journalists that only one of hostages held by Chechen gunmen died of gunshot wounds.

He said nearly 650 of the rescued hostages are still being treated for gas poisoning in hospital, of whom 150 were in intensive care while 45 remained in a critical condition.

Up to 50 Chechen rebels were killed during the attack, but it remains unclear how many of them died from the effects of the gas, and how many were shot dead.

US demand

General relief that the siege of the Moscow theatre was over has given way to mounting concern about the methods used.

The Russian refusal to say which type of gas was used has irritated several western embassies in Russia.

The United States has officially asked for more information, insisting it is crucial for the treatment of casualties.

hostage taker
Questions remain over where the hostage takers came from
One Russian expert said the gas used was a chemical weapons agent and blamed the high number of deaths on delays in administering the antidote.

Lev Fyodorov, president of Russian's Union for Chemical Safety, told the BBC: "This was a military operation using non-lethal chemical weapons developed during the Cold War.

"They would have been intended for a military opponent."

As such, Mr Fyodorov said the authorities would be unable to prevent deaths of civilians in an enclosed space like the theatre.

The gas was pumped into the theatre complex to overcome the rebels before special forces went in.

However the gas also killed or incapacitated many of the hostages, leaving some unconscious, with breathing problems and memory loss.

Doctors said its effects resemble that of a general anaesthetic used in high doses.

Vladimir Putin
Putin praised the operation which ended the siege

Distraught families have been clamouring for information about relatives who are being held at medical facilities across Moscow.

Police believe some of the Chechen rebels might be posing as civilian victims and want to screen all the patients.

However some former hostages who survived were released from hospital number 13 in Moscow on Sunday, amid tears and shouts of joy.

A large group of friends and family had gathered in the pouring rain to meet them, some clutching flowers.

For many, it was the first time they had seen their loved ones since they left for a performance of a popular musical at the theatre last Wednesday night.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Moscow says the former hostages looked bewildered but walked unaided.

They reported sickness and headaches from the gas, but most said the worst had already passed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The doctors' task is made harder by the refusal of authorities to say which gas they used"
Open University Professor of Biology Steven Rose
"Some Moscow hospitals have been issued with an antidote to BZ gas"
Former SAS soldier Ken Connor
"To introduce the gas takes time - it doesn't happen in seconds"

Siege reports

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Chechen conflict

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See also:

27 Oct 02 | Europe
28 Oct 02 | Europe
28 Oct 02 | Europe
26 Oct 02 | Europe
27 Oct 02 | UK
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