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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Blair passes on sympathy to Putin
Burial of Alina Khubetsova in Beslan on Sunday
Alina Khubetsova, 11, was buried with her dolls
Tony Blair has offered Russian President Vladimir Putin the UK's support and sympathy in the wake of the school massacre in Beslan.

Downing Street said the president thanked the prime minister for the offer during a phone call on Monday.

Earlier UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the killings were "almost beyond belief", adding that now was not the time to question Russia's tactics.

About 330 people, many children, are so far known to have died in Beslan.

The foreign secretary said thoughts should be with relatives of the dead and injured, and Russians as a whole.

There are some things which happen amongst human kind which are almost inexplicable according to any basic moral norms - Nazi-ism was and this is
Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today it was "almost tasteless and it is disrespectful to the dead and the dying and their relatives" to focus now on the future of Chechnya and political implications of the siege.

He said: "Sometimes we are too swift to move away from the original and fundamental causes of such terrorism, namely the terrorists who perpetrated such an act, and shift away to other things - in a sense taking for granted their culpability.

"There are some things which happen amongst human kind which are almost inexplicable according to any basic moral norms - Nazism was and this is.

"This is almost beyond belief, that any group of human beings could conceivably have thought that any cause whatsoever could be advanced by taking hostage these innocent, young children and subjecting them to this kind of terror and then ensuring the death of so many of them."

Hostage taker

The UK had offered Russia any help or advice it needed.

Asked if the United Nations had a role in Chechnya, Mr Straw said peace was achieved in Northern Ireland by the British and Irish Governments.

"This (Chechnya) is something which is bound to have to be resolved by the Russian government. It is within their state and they have been taking steps to deal with it."

Alleged hostage-taker on Russian Channel One television
The man seemed frightened, and at times was incoherent
Meanwhile, in Russia a man said to have been a hostage-taker in the bloody school siege in the southern Russian town was shown on state television.

His hands bound, the frightened-looking man was shown being led by two hooded commandos into a room, where he was interviewed for a short time.

He said he had not wanted to die in the siege, and that as a father, he had felt pity for the child hostages.

Two days of national mourning have now begun, a day after the first funerals. Flags are flying at half-mast, and all television entertainment programmes have been cancelled.

Burials

Authorities say at least 335 people died in the siege in the North Ossetia region, which ended in carnage on Friday, but correspondents say unofficial figures suggest the real number could be closer to 400.

Alleged hostage-taker on Russian Channel One television
1 - At 0850 GMT a vehicle from the emergencies ministry is sent in to retrieve the bodies of those killed at the start of the siege.
2 - A series of blasts rock the gym, bringing the roof down.
3 - Hostages start running. The attackers fire at them to try to block their escape, prompting the troops outside to shoot back.

In Beslan, funerals began on Sunday with the burial of 24 of the siege victims in a field on the edge of town.

But many families still do not know what has happened to their children. Almost 200 people are still officially missing.

Children at the school had been celebrating the start of the new school year with parents and staff on Wednesday morning when the heavily-armed gang took them hostage.

The crisis ended in massive bloodshed after bombs rigged up by the hostage-takers went off inside the building, and Russian troops moved in.




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