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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 May 2006, 05:40 GMT 06:40 UK
Beslan verdict brings no comfort
By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Vladikavkaz, southern Russia

Relatives of victims of the Beslan school siege scuffle
Differences between victims' relatives have erupted into scuffles
This trial took a year to reach its conclusion, and when it did the final verdict did not come as a surprise.

After days of summing up, Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov pronounced Nur-Pashi Kulayev guilty on all charges, including terrorism and murder.

He said the defendant deserved capital punishment, but that a moratorium on death sentences meant it had to be replaced with life imprisonment.

And as Judge Aguzarov closed the case - shutting the folder with the verdict which he had been reading out for almost two weeks - there were dramatic scenes of both grief and anger in the tiny courtroom.

Some victims' relatives exploded with rage, throwing themselves at the police cordon, trying to break through to reach Kulayev.

They were hurling abuse and threatening to lynch him.

Others remained motionless. It seemed as if they were frozen, unable to leave the courtroom where so many horror stories had been told, so many family tragedies relived.

'Cover-up'

In Beslan, many had been demanding the death penalty - the only adequate punishment, they said, for somebody who had taken part in the killing of more than 330 people.

Nur-Pashi Kulayev
Nur-Pashi Kulayev is just a "pawn" according to some

Still, some disagreed. Across the street from the courthouse Aneta Gadieva, one of the victims of the siege, said: "Spending your whole life in jail is probably worse than being executed."

And Ella Kesaeva, who lost her two nephews in the siege, thinks that Kulayev might come in useful for a "proper investigation" some time in the future.

"We don't trust the authorities," she said.

"This trial has been a cover-up of the real culprits, and Kulayev is just a pawn. To find out who really should bear responsibility, you need to look much higher, all the way to the top of the Russian state."

Deep divides

As we were talking, a furious elderly lady rushed up from behind. She tried to push Ella out of the way, covering our camera with her hand.

"You don't want to talk to her! She doesn't represent our town. She doesn't even know what she's talking about!"

Relatives of victims of the Beslan school siege
Some relatives remained frozen after the verdict

All this a sure sign of how divided the people of Beslan now are. These divisions go a lot deeper than just the case of Nur-Pashi Kulayev, into the realm of much more fundamental issues.

While some think it is time to try to move on from the tragedy, others have vowed to wear black as a sign of mourning until they are told what they believe is the "real truth".

They pledge not to give up until those in power are punished.

For Beslan, one sentence for one hostage taker is unlikely to bring much comfort.

Late on Friday night, in the ruins of the school where hundreds had died, we found burning candles. And in the corridor, in total darkness, a man was crying, his head bowed and touching the wall, which is still riddled with bullet holes.

The pain of this town will be very difficult to cure, the lost trust in the authorities almost impossible to regain.


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