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Russia & Putin breathe fire
- Thousands march in Moscow, President rules out talks with ‘child-killers’

Moscow, Sept. 7 (Reuters): Russians massed in their hundreds of thousands today to denounce terrorism, as President Vladimir Putin rejected talks with Chechen separatists, blamed for at least 335 deaths in last week’s school hostage siege.

In Moscow, tens of thousands gathered at an evening rally near Red Square in the heart of the city, streaming across a bridge with Russian and Soviet flags held high, as truckloads of police, many with dogs, patrolled.

Rallies were held across the country following the siege at a school in the southern town of Beslan. Around half of those killed in the operation to retake the school were children. “Children are our future, defend them,” read one banner in Moscow. “Russia’s heart is in Beslan today,” said another.

Religious and government officials addressed the crowd from a makeshift platform at the foot of St Basil’s cathedral, each ending their speech with a defiant: “We will win!”.

“Muscovites! We are not weak. We are stronger than them! Stronger!” Moscow’s high-profile mayor Yuri Luzhkov bellowed. “The fascists couldn’t beat Russia and terror won’t beat Russia either. We are together. We are going to win!”

Putin had earlier rejected talks with Chechen separatists, and ruled out a public inquiry into the storming of the school. “Why don’t you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace'” he said.

“You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers'” he added in a meeting with journalists. Opposition politicians said the Moscow rally was intended to parry criticism of the Kremlin’s handling of the crisis and Putin’s failure to ensure security for ordinary Russians.

Pressure on the media to toe the line increased yesterday with the sacking of the editor of the respected daily Izvestia, which splashed harrowing pictures in its Saturday edition.

But Putin appeared to be avoiding personal criticism for Beslan, with a survey showing most Russians blamed corrupt special forces for failing to prevent rising terrorism. Few held the president responsible.

Fifty-four per cent said the security and police services were corrupt and 23 per cent said they did not know how to do their job properly.

Beslan buried more of the dead from the chaotic operation to free them from captors demanding independence for Chechnya. The ruins of School No. 1, where more than 1,000 hostages were held for 53 hours, have become a memorial where processions stop and lay flowers on their way to a new cemetery for victims.

“The whole town is crying, wailing for the pain that can never ease,” said Masha, neighbour of four-year-old Rada Solkazanova and her mother Larisa, buried together today.

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