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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 09:48 GMT
Moscow hostages bring lawsuit
People lay tributes near the Moscow siege theatre
The claims are illegal, Moscow's mayor says
Eight former hostages and relatives of those who died during the Moscow theatre siege in October have begun legal moves to seek compensation from the city authorities.


The mayor's office has given families financial help that is not sufficient

Igor Trunov
victims' lawyer
The plaintiffs argue that they should be compensated for emotion and emotional suffering, and are demanding a total of $7.5m.

The Mayor of Moscow expressed outrage at the claim, saying all victims had been given material help and that any further demands were illegal.

More than 120 hostages - as well as all 41 Chechen militants - were killed when Russian special forces stormed the theatre on 26 October.

Scepticism

A preliminary hearing into the compensation claims began on Tuesday, while the main proceedings are scheduled to start on 24 December.

Hostage is tended outside the theatre
Many criticised the government's handling of the crisis

Seven of the plaintiffs are demanding $1m in damages, and one is seeking $500,000.

The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow says the sums are unheard of in Russia, and that many people are sceptical about the outcome.

After the siege, the office of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov said it would award about $1,500 each to those held hostage and more than $3,000 to the relatives of those who died.

But the plaintiffs' lawyer, Igor Trunov, said this was not enough.

"The mayor's office has given families financial help that is not sufficient," Mr Trunov said, adding that "the amount can only be defined by the courts".

Mr Trunov added that under Russia's new anti-terrorism law, the region where an act of terror occurs should pay compensation for moral and material damages.

He also said he expected more families to join the legal battle - but warned it might drag on for years.

Popular move

Mr Luzhkov's office denounced the suits, saying it could not be held responsible.

"The Chechen issue and its consequences are not within the jurisdiction of the Moscow authorities in any way," a spokesman for the mayor said.

The theatre siege began on 23 October after Chechen guerrillas seized the building in mid-performance, threatening to kill everyone inside if their demand to end the Russian military occupation in Chechnya was not met.

Russian forces surrounded the theatre for three days, before launching the dramatic assault.

Most of hostages who died were killed by powerful opiate gas pumped into the theatre to subdue the hostage-takers.

President Putin's popularity ratings soared after the hostage crisis and a majority of Russians said they approved of the move.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow
"Many more people will join the legal battle"

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25 Nov 02 | Europe
10 Nov 02 | Europe
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