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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Putin meets angry Beslan mothers
Russian president Vladimir Putin (right) during the meeting with Beslan relatives
Beslan mothers did not want Mr Putin to attend their memorial
Russia's president has faced a delegation of mothers whose children died a year ago during the Beslan school siege.

Vladimir Putin told the group that no country could completely shield its citizens from terror.

But he said this did not justify the negligence of any officials and pledged a full investigation into the siege.

A year ago pro-Chechen gunmen seized a North Ossetian school. The three-day siege left more than 330 people dead.

'No excuse'

Of those who died, 186 were children.

Their mothers, who have requested talks for months, have complained bitterly about how the tragedy was handled and the investigation which followed.

Mourners in the gutted gymnasium of Beslan's School Number One

Mr Putin compared the North Caucasus siege to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.

"I agree with those who believe that today the state is not in condition to provide for the security of its citizens to the necessary degree," he said.

"At the same time, I agree with those who say that this is no excuse for officials' improper fulfilment of their duties."

In the closed-door meeting, he vowed to fully investigate what happened and to be open about the results.

"All the circumstances must be scrupulously investigated and the whole public made aware of the results of the investigation," he added.

There was no immediate reaction from the delegation to the outcome of the meeting.

Grim sit-in

Overnight, dozens of victims' relatives stayed in the gutted school gym and at the cemetery in honour of their loved ones, guarded by police and volunteers.

I'm not frightened of meeting him (Putin) - it is he who should be frightened
Susanna Dudiyeva
Beslan Mothers Committee

They said they would stay there until 1305 (0905 GMT) on Saturday - the time when a year ago an explosion in the school triggered a bloody assault by Russian forces.

Many in Beslan believe most of the victims were killed by the Russian assault forces, after Mr Putin had refused to talk with the gunmen.

Beslan, in Russia's North Ossetia region, is holding three days of events to mourn the victims.

Controversial meeting

Women who lost their children during the siege - known as the Beslan Mothers' Committee - had long requested talks with the president.

Women mourn in Beslan's cemetery ahead of the anniversary
Many people in Beslan blame the authorities for the bloodbath

People in the town are still looking for answers and some are talking of a cover-up, correspondents say.

They want to know how so many gunmen made it into their school in the first place, and why officials refused to negotiate.

And most of all, they want to know exactly who was responsible for the siege ending in a bloodbath.

"The government is supposed to guarantee our lives, take responsibility for our lives, and they haven't," said the head of the Beslan Mothers' Committee, Susanna Dudiyeva.

Mrs Dudiyeva, whose 13-year-old son was killed during the siege, earlier told reporters that Mr Putin was unwelcome during the mourning ceremonies "since he is responsible for what happened in Beslan".

"I'm not frightened of meeting him. It is he who should be frightened," she said. "He can't comprehend what we've been through."

However, the decision to accept the invitation to go to Moscow caused deep divisions in Beslan.

There was anger and offence that the Kremlin decided to hold the meeting as Beslan was mourning its dead.

The Beslan Mothers' Committee itself was split, with many of its members fiercely opposing the plan to travel to Moscow.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Mothers mourn their loss at the site of the siege



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