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Hostage kin seek damages

Moscow, Dec. 3 (Reuters): Hostages and relatives of those who died during Russia’s storming of a theatre held by Chechen rebels made Russian legal history by seeking compensation in court today.

In a country where any damage awards are rare and usually run to only a few thousand dollars, the eight claimants sought $7.5 million compensation for the hostage-taking and the gassing by special forces that ended the siege. The case is widely expected to set the precedent for similar claims in the future.

“I do believe we have a chance to win this case, but the authorities obviously think the survivors want too much,” Igor Trunov, the lawyer for the hostages and their relatives, told reporters in front of Moscow’s Tverskoi district court.

However, officials in Moscow, where 129 hostages were killed in October when Russian troops used a strong opiate-based gas to end the three-day siege, have said the lawsuit was groundless.

Victims are suing the city and not the government because Russian law states that victims of acts categorised as terrorism must seek compensation from the region where the attack occurs.

But the city government says forcing it to pay compensation for the hostage-taking, which gave a huge boost to President Vladimir Putin’s ratings, is tantamount to declaring it guilty for the attack. “Had the survivors demanded, say, only 200,000 roubles (about $6,000), there would have been no problem with the city authorities,” Trunov said.

He said today’s hearing was postponed until December 24 after a routine demand for more information.

Vladimir Platonov, speaker for the city parliament, said Moscow’s government did not have the funds. “There just simply isn’t the money in Moscow’s budget,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

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