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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 September, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Tragedy throws spotlight on Kremlin
BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawksley
By Humphrey Hawksley
BBC correspondent in Moscow

Muscovites have reacted with both horror and resignation to the school siege.

Police officers march across Red Square, Moscow
The attacks have brought higher security across Russia
Less than a week ago, a suicide bomber killed 11 people at a metro station here, and today the Moscow papers are filled with the most graphic and powerful photographs of the tragedy in Beslan.

The political response, however, has been muted in line with the increasingly autocratic style of President Putin's government.

At the height of the violence on Friday, the main television stations cut into their correspondents' live reports from the school, stopped showing pictures and returned to scheduled programming.

However, images of the crisis have proved too powerful to subdue.

One of the main newspapers, Isvestia, stripped away its normal bland format and devoted the whole of the front page to a single picture of a wounded school girl in the arms of a rescuer.

There was no headline - with the picture speaking all.

Another newspaper, Moskovskii Komsomolets, ran a challenging column asking prominent figures if they believed the official version of events.

One response was that there was no official version - a reference to the hours of silence from President Putin as the casualty figures mounted.

Another pointed out how resolutely the authorities had stuck to their version of there being only about 350 hostages, when the real figure was much higher.

Future fears

After another tragic hostage siege at a Moscow theatre nearly two years - in which 129 people died - President Putin made clear his anger at the media by accusing it of living on the publicity of blood.

Since he came to power, political debate in Russia has become severely constricted.

A boy lights a candle in the Holy Mother Of Kazan Cathedral in Moscow
Russians no longer feel safe
The broadcast media is mostly under government control, political chat shows have been dropped and the newspapers are almost devoid of commentary.

Now the Beslan siege has punched a terrible hole in that protective cordon around the Kremlin.

President Putin's response will have to be both sensitive and substantive.

Right now people appear to be concentrating on two issues - abhorrence for what happened and loathing for those who carried it out, and fear that the security agencies will be unable to protect ordinary Russians from bloody acts of terror in the future.

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