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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Doves and balloons for Beslan's grief
By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Beslan

One year precisely after explosions ripped through Beslan's school number one, a bell tolled in the ruins of the building.

Crowd of mourners in Beslan
The ceremony stirred painful memories for many

And as a cloud of 331 white balloons - one for each victim of the siege - lifted into the air from the school's courtyard, there was first an eerie silence and then an overwhelming wail of grief, a sound of hundreds of people crying for their dead.

Some balloons stuck in the branches of nearby trees.

"Look, that is my son! Doctors told me that he did not die instantly, he suffered longer than the others," exclaimed one black-clad woman to her neighbours in the crowd, her voice chillingly matter-of-fact.

She was in a long queue of people waiting to go through the ruins of the gym.

The line of mourners was barely moving, people inside the gym lingering by photographs of their loved ones on bullet-riddled walls, touching their children's faces, talking to their sons and daughters about the loss and the grief.

My main emotion now is the need for revenge. I need to see somebody in pain for this, somebody whose negligence caused our tragedy
Zalina Guburova

Some of the mothers had stayed inside this gym for three days, holding a vigil, re-living the torment which their relatives went through.

But by now this small group of women - so noticeable on a bench by the entrance to the ruined school just a day ago - had mixed with the crowd.

Search for truth

Their vigil was as political as it was personal, and this was hardly the moment for political action.

But even so, people by the gym did talk about their government.

Wailing woman in school gymnasium
The mourning continues for the mothers of the dead

For many in Beslan, these are not only the days of grief - these are the days of anger, as well.

The mothers of Beslan do not believe that their government had done enough to save the hostages - and they blame the way in which the special forces stormed the school for most of the deaths.

"They used flamethrowers, tanks and grenades," says Zalina Guburova who lost her son and her mother in the siege.

"And it was us, mothers of Beslan, who made the authorities admit it".

Zalina is a purposeful, tough woman of about 40.

To her, she says, the bloodbath which ended the siege was not the end, but a new beginning. A beginning of a search for truth.

"My main emotion now is the need for revenge. I need to see somebody in pain for this, somebody whose negligence caused our tragedy," she told us back at her home, surrounded by the photographs of her loved ones and the little toy dragon her son had made himself last summer.

Grief and pain

Zalina was one of the women who could have gone to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin on 2 September - but chose not to.

"I think it's an insult to invite us to Moscow exactly on the day when our loved ones were between life and death," she says wryly.

The women who did go were promised a full investigation.

Girl places a dove on a gravestone in Beslan
Doves were released to commemorate the dead

But their president also said that his government took the only course it could in dealing with terrorism.

But back in Beslan, this is little comfort to those grieving in this town.

On the last day of ceremonies, a huge statue was unveiled at the city's cemetery - the tree of sorrow.

Three hundred and thirty-one white doves were released.

Some settled in its branches. One landed on the shoulder of a mourner and just sat there, perfectly calm even as people filing past stroked its feathers.

"That's it now. Now that I've seen these doves fly off, it does finally feel like our children are gone," said one woman as she watched the birds go.

But even so, the mourning of Beslan is still far from over.

What happened in this town was so terrible and so shocking that it will never shed its grief and pain.

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