There is heavy gunfire and explosions at the scene of the Russian school siege.
A group of between 30 and 70 hostages, including many children, have escaped from the building.
The heavily armed militants stormed the school in Beslan on Wednesday demanding the release of fighters from Ingushetia prisons and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.
Though no one has claimed responsibility for the siege, suspicion has fallen on Chechen separatists, who have been fighting for independence from Moscow for the past decade.
The hostage-takers had previously warned that if police tried to storm the building, they would blow up the school or kill 50 children for every one hostage-taker killed.
What is your reaction to the school siege? Send us your views.
This debate is closed. Thank you for your comments.
This tragedy shows once more that these people have no other agenda but destroying life and property. I am watching a body of a young boy being loaded in a van, and I come to realise that any potential sympathy one may have for Chechen independence must be quickly vanishing. Perhaps we should really butt out of this affair, and let the Russians deal with it in whatever manner they see fit. It is obvious that Chechens have no greater enemy but these people and their supporters. Yes, I am angry, and my heart goes to the parents and families of the children caught in the siege.
Albert, Auckland, New Zealand
God help the poor parents as they wait for their children. As a parent I can't imagine the pain and anguish they must feel. Every minute must feel like an hour. It is a despicable way to make a point. I pray that those poor children come out alive and do not suffer for their time as hostages. I hope that they remain strong and any adults with them are comforting them as best they can. The rebels have done nothing for their cause but cause an outpouring of hatred towards them from all who are watching. Whether you are a parent or not, nothing is more disgusting to see than someone prepared to hurt an innocent child, let alone hundreds.
Louise, London, UK
We now hear that gunshots and explosions are being heard at the site. How could I stand by and watch my children in such a situation? Political wrongs or rights, these are innocent children who know little of political differences. I could not even pretend to imagine how those grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers and children of those being held feel. No-one can. This is a sinful act of desperation by the hostage takers. Two wrongs can never make a right.
Dave Wright, UK
Terrorism does not solve ANY problem. It only creates more sadness and more hate and then more terrorism. Let us pray that these families and children will be free and reason will win over hate and threats and suicide bombers.
Jim Jennings, Wilmette, Illinois, USA
Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Russia and the town of Beslan. I only hope that the lives of these innocent children are spared. I don't understand what type of human could plan to take the lives of children to further any cause. I only wish that I were able to stand side by side with the Russian people and help them through this time of crisis.
Clay, Dallas, USA
The news these days seems to be full of stories in the world (Iraq, Darfur, Chechnya) that share one common theme - cultural and religious differences. The Islamic religion needs to bring its sons and daughters in these beleaguered states under control. Yet another situation where the image of Islam is severely dented.
Abdul Hrass, Manchester, UK
Alas, Moscow is reaping the whirlwind it has sown in the 90's. Moscow's scorched-earth policy in Chechnya has radicalised a generation, isolated moderates and turned a separatist struggle into an ideo-religious struggle. Chechnya only comes to the world's attention at an incident like this or Dubrovka. For too long Moscow has used Chechnya for domestic distraction purposes. We can only expect more mayhem and murder on both sides.
Oscar, London, UK
Lets' just pray for a peaceful end with no more deaths. I don't know the wrongs or rights of those holding these hostages. All I know is that killing innocent children and adults is not the answer
Les Weatherley, Daventry
The rebels were forced into this by the Russian military's invasion of Chechnya. They have no other option to regain their freedom.
Although the subject is a touchy and emotional one, in no way should the Russian president give in to the terrorists. Appeasing them will only lead Chechen terrorists, as well as other terrorists in the CIS and rest of the world, to believe that they can get what they want through acts of terrorism. Instead, Putin should let the terrorists know that there will be strict and severe consequences for their actions.
Jordan, Wisconsin, USA
Taking children hostage may be a cowardly way to get your point across, but it has an extremely strong impact and gets international attention easily.
Steve, Clifton, Nottingham
I find it very simple minded of these people who suggest that the simple solution is for Russia to just leave Chechnya. Ignoring the rights and wrongs of Russia's invasion of Chechnya as a country - you just can't start giving in to terrorism or else it will never stop. If Russia pulled out of Chechnya then the next time anyone wants anything from the Chechen government then they know that all they have to do is take a few hundred people hostage and the government will cave to their demands
Ben, London, UK
President Putin, Russia and indeed the world at large is today faced with a choice of whether or not to give in. Giving in to the demands - however legitimate - would save the children held hostage but will set a trend. No school across the world will ever be safe anymore. Yet, the contrary response, as of now it seems, is likely to cause the death of all hostages, which would be catastrophic and horrendous. The only hope is the ability of Special Forces and the secret service.
S Sen, New Delhi, India
Chechen separatists have sunk to a low, which many of the country man must fill them with a great sadness. If the siege goes wrong and I hope it does not - what will Moscow's reaction be to the innocent people of that country?
Putin should make a counter move. He should tell the terrorists that if they harm the children, he will start bombing Chechnya. The terrorists must come to know that the consequence of their actions can be dangerous for their cause. Also this crisis has to be brought to an end with no kids getting hurt... Putin can do that by giving a way out to the terrorists (even if this seems to be unthinkable). If the terrorists feel cornered, they might take the extreme step. We wish all the kids and their parents all the courage to see them through this situation
Why should ordinary people suffer because of politicians and their policy? Has anybody ever asked ordinary Russians how they feel about what is going on? I read some statistics that 43% of Russians disapprove of their government's policy in Chechnya. Why is it still going on I wonder.
Elena Angelova, Sofia, Bulgaria
Nothing justifies the actions taken by these terrorists. If their goal was to gain international distain and disgust for their cause then they have succeeded.
Charles Wang, San Diego, United States
Let's hope Russian forces free the hostages with the only loss of life being that of the terrorists.
Sean Carr, London, UK
Tragic but typical of the times we live in. I agree with President Bush... we may never win the war on terrorism. In a global community how can we protect citizens from those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the cause they pursue? Respect for life and eternal consequences have lost their meaning in our day. When man rejects God's rule and imposes his own, we are all in dire straits.
Gerry, Queenstown, Canada
Being a Muslim, I am deeply horrified and disgusted by the trend of psychopaths murdering the innocent in the name of Islam. How can they ever justify it? I don't understand. Despite the aggression of the Russians in Chechnya (and elsewhere), Muslims should realise that our rules of conduct are not dictated by them. Them killing Muslim children does not, in any way, justify Muslims killing their children. We have our own code of ethic and chivalry, and one of those is not to kill civilians. The Muslims need to open their eyes and see that no good can come of this. Peace.
Asif Uddin, London, UK
It makes me mad to hear people say that the way to solve the Chechen issue is to give Chechnya independence. If you are too lazy to learn the history of this conflict, then don't make silly statements. Chechnya was given its autonomy in 1996. It used it to build up terrorist training camps and then they began invasion of Russia in August of 1999 with a publicly stated goal of creating an Islamic state in southern Russia. Now, they lost the war they started, but they cannot accept the fact and continue to kill for their lost cause.
Yuri, Moscow, Russia
I don't believe Russia will give in to terrorists. I am not sure what is up with this Muslim/terrorist hype now days. But one thing is for sure, it is not winning any favouritism to their cause. It doesn't matter to me who is right and who is wrong, but you will never get your point across by killing innocent people. The terrorists inside are as good as dead. At one point people will say enough is enough, I am pretty sure Russia could be the first country to say that and will start fighting fire with fire.
Zhenya, Chicago, US
The situation will only be defused, if everything is given its due right to exist. The Chechnya people have been slaughtered by the Russians for many years and their men, women, children and elderly have been killed by the Russian army and their supporters for years, and the world has turned a blind eye. The Russians should get out of other peoples' land and leave them be. What the thousand and thousands killed by the Russians, Chechen lives are as important as Russian lives and therefore occupying other lands is illegal and therefore if the Russians want peace, they should get out.
It is once again the oil, in Chechnya which the Russians, like their American counterparts want to steal from the Chechens. The message to the Russians and other nations with evil intent is to get out of other's lands and let them be.
Shazad, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Firstly, I would like to thank all those who expressed their sympathy and grief in this topic. I have read all the comments, and basically I am satisfied. There is only one thing - the question of "get the Russian troops away from Chechnya". I wonder if the audience actually knows that there was a period of several years in the late nineties, when there actually were no Russian troops in Chechnya, not a single soldier. They had been withdrawn, and Chechnya was virtually independent. Do you think it stopped the violence?
All that happened was that nearly all the ethnically Russian inhabitants of Chechnya (I say ethnically, because after all Chechnya has been Russian territory for the last two hundred years at least and Chechens are citizens of the Russian Federation just like anyone else in this country), so nearly all the ethnical Russians were murdered or driven away from the homes where they had grown up and lived all their lives, but not only that. The Chechen rebels, as they are called, and who are actually nothing more than criminals, made a trade out of kidnapping people - their own fellow Chechens as well if they were unlucky enough to have rich relatives who could pay the ransom. If you think that 'no Russians' amounts to 'peace in Chechnya', then I'm afraid you are under a sad misapprehension.
You should understand that all the solutions that we non-specialists can offer in a discussion like this have probably crossed the minds of the people whose job it is to sort the whole Chechnya issue out, and if they don't do it then probably there is a reason for that too. But anyway, I'd like to thank you all for your sympathy again.
Eug Semenyuk, Moscow, Russian Federation
All those who threaten innocent children should be ashamed of themselves. We see it in Iraq and the Sudan and now in Beslan. It time to stop using means to kill and instead find ways to help all of us live.
Brendan Keegan, Dublin Ireland
Why is it that words like occupation and invasion are used? Chechnya has been part of Russian territory for almost 150 years, and no agreements have ever been signed to give it independence. It was given autonomy, but that has proven insufficient for the rebels, who chose to break the stalemate by attacking neighbouring Russian territories and trying to establish an Islamic state there. More people should read their history before voicing their opinions.
Misha Z, Stockholm, Sweden
The siege is another part of the great myth that is the Chechen issue. Here we have the true face of those who seek independence from Russia, not politically courageous, nor passionately and peacefully stating their case. No. We have children, yet to live their lives, parents, and teachers trying to raise their children with inspiration and optimism, and peaceful human beings being threatened and possibly murdered by these people. I'm sick of the bleating about Chechnya, and the constant condemnation of Russia in the press. There are hundreds of innocent men, women and children being held hostage by people intent on savagery at its most base level. My heart goes out to all those people including the parents and friends waiting for news and wishing for a peaceful end.
Alex Stone, North Yorkshire, UK
Russian imperialistic ambitions are not worth the lives of innocent children. Give independence to the Chechen people - save the children and further violence. Russia should realise the time of Great Russian Empire is over. They should stop wasting lives of their own citizens and stop trying to brighten dark pictures.
Elchin Mahmudov, Manchester, UK (Originally from Azerbaijan)
This is so awful. I truly feel for those children, their parents and all others held hostage. I urge the Russians not to use force whilst the hostage takers are not. I know the situation in Chechnya is desperate and there are many many real grievances against the Russian army and authorities. However, this is not the way to highlight their plight. Its a vicious cycle and if the hostage takers are willing to compromise the Russians must do also.
Matthew Quaife, London, UK
What could drive a group of people to attack children? Russia is in a no win situation. They cannot give in to the terrorist demands, they cannot storm the school and if the terrorists are resolute they will not save all the children. The damage has been done in the past. Why does Russia not want international help with the Chechnya situation? How can things have become so bad? In principle I would agree to the demands, but that is impossible - that would just open the terrorist floodgates. God help the decision makers.
Get the Russian troops out of Chechnya - now. I believe that nothing will stop Chechen separatists in their fight of independence. Is it really worth keeping the Russian troops in Chechnya and the Russians in constant fear? What is going to happen next? Putin keeps promising peace and stability in the region but in 10 years it is proved to not be possible. I feel really sorry for children and school staff . What is going to be the next target?
It is easy to solve the stand-off. Grant independence to Chechnya. Russia needs to strongly consider what they are gaining by holding on to the Caucasus provinces such as Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Ossetia etc. How much do these places really benefit Russia in terms of manufacturing, food, tax base and so forth? For all the trouble it is causing Russia (the Moscow theatre, two aircraft's downed and now the school situation), it seems everyone would be better off if Russia just let go.
Trygve Inda, Prague, Czech Rep.
I hope that Russian forces can free the hostages with no loss of life. I would like to question why the media continues to refer to the Chechens as rebels. Rebels do not blow up civilian planes, rebels do not kidnap hundreds of children and parents. It is time the Chechens were called what they are, terrorists. Terrorists that have been in league with al-Qaeda for over a decade. When they are called rebels it validates the actions they take against civilians. I would like to add that Putin could end this war in Chechnya if he would not be afraid of international criticism. If Russia were to invade Georgia this war would be over.
Julian, Miami, United States
The sympathy I once had for the Chechen separatists has completely evaporated. It now seems perfectly clear that Chechnya is better off under Russian rule than under the rule of potential child murderers.
I would rather see soldiers in schools protecting children rather than thousands of miles away protecting oil.
Darran, London, UK
How the armed group think that Russia will let them live peacefully by such actions? I foresee no peaceful solution for Chechnya by such actions.
Ananth, Bangalore, India
Enough is enough, please leave our innocent children alone!!
Nigel Wong, Hong Kong
A sure fire way to turn everyone worldwide off a terrorist cause is to involve innocent children.
Oliver Pyke, London, UK
Taking children as hostages is pure senseless means to take demands on Russia. I believe they should leave all the children unharmed and their parents and teachers too. Schools should be left out of the war. I suggest the Chechen Rebels use better means to break the backbone of Russian Politicians and their Armed forces.
Fayaz, India (Kashmir)
This is a truly ghastly act and should be condemned by everyone. At the same time we should ask the question, have the Russians killed innocent Chechen civilians and raped and tortured Chechen women? If the answer to these questions is yes, then Putin has to share some of the blame for this tragedy.
Dr Khan, Aberdeen
We should offer the services of the SAS and help the Russians in whatever way possible. There has to be absolutely zero tolerance of this type of terrorism, no matter how valid the cause. The civilised world has to stand together to defeat these attacks.
This incident further proves the depravity of Islamic Fundamentalists - Beheadings, suicide bombings, and now taking children hostage? Those people who have hijacked a religion seem to want a holy war.
Chance M. Giddens, Alabama, USA
The English proverb says "an eye for an eye", Russia kill the Chechen men, women, children and old people, so they should be punished with the same action. There is no solution for this but the withdrawal of troops from Chechen.
Ahmed Ali Hassan, Cairo, Egypt
By declaring a war on international terrorism, the Bush administration together with its allies have given Global terrorism a tangible singular identity. The old adage "my enemies enemy is my friend" was never more reverent than in this struggle. Previously isolated national terrorists are now frequently becoming international martyrs, support and comradely behaviour doubtlessly grows in the underground networks of international terrorist activity. These are dangerous times and sadly we have no historical precursor to learn from.
James Burrows, Sheffield, England
Desperate people tend to do desperate things. However, terrorism is not the solution but it does make one think about the roots of the problem. The Western world, primarily the USA and UK, have turned a blind eye to the Russian invasion of once independent country of Chechnya. Russia should leave Chechnya to the Chechen people. That is the first step for stability of the region. Once the invasion is over people there will worry about reconstruction of their homes and not about their freedom.
Erik Pisma, London, UK
People who deliberately target children prove that have no morals and are committed to total war. The risk of engaging in total war is that the other side will probably respond the same way. Lets hope that this tragic incident will not turn more ugly than it already is and that Russian troops will not respond in a similar manner in Chechen
Kostas K, Athens Greece
Why does it matter whether the hostages are children or adults? It's still hostage taking, and it's still despicable. I don't feel any extra security should be placed in schools in Russia when this is over. Although this is a horrible thing, their cause is justified - Russian troops should not be in Chechnya.