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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 September 2005, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Grieving Beslan marks siege end
Relatives sob during the one minute silence in memory of the Beslan victims

The town of Beslan in southern Russia has held a final ceremony to mark the anniversary of a school siege in which 331 people, 186 of them children, died.

Bells on the site of the school marked the moment of the first of the blasts that led to the end of the siege.

Many of the relatives were overwhelmed with grief as a minute's silence was held and white balloons, one for each of the victims, were released.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an inquiry into the tragedy.

As the final ceremonies were being held, and a day after he met a delegation of bereaved mothers, Mr Putin announced he had ordered the prosecutor general to send investigators to Beslan.

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

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

Mr Putin told the mothers on Friday 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.

Looking for answers

Events to commemorate the massacre have taken place in Beslan over three days.

They culminated in the unveiling of a monument called "The tree of sorrow" at the local cemetery where most of the victims are buried.

A relative cries for her loved ones during the one minute silence
Scenes of raw emotion marked Beslan's commemorations

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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