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Under a 'Crying' Sky, Beslan's Dead Are Laid to Rest

Some graves, like that of the Kozyrevs, where Alla, Timur and Elina, mother, son and daughter, were buried side by side, were so large that a dump truck had to back up to the hole and tip a load of dirt on the coffins.

"It is our blood here," said Elbrus Bulayev, a worker at a local vodka distillery who spent the morning digging graves under a hard rain. "The sky is crying."


In pouring rain, Ossetian men carry the coffin of a hostage killed in the siege of School No. 1 during one of many funerals in Beslan, Russia. (Photos Sergei Ponomarev -- AP)

_____Photo Gallery_____
Russia Begins Burying Victims: Funeral processions in Beslan on Monday moved one after another for the hundreds who died in the Russian school hostage crisis.
_____More From The Post_____
Hostage Takers in Russia Argued Before Explosion (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
Russia Admits It Lied On Crisis (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)
A Gruesome Tour Inside School No. 1 (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)

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And then, in what many people seemed to take as shocking insensitivity, the bereavement was interrupted by political speeches that bellowed across the open ground from a podium set up 50 yards from the graves. All morning, a group of people, mostly local officials, had waited for the arrival of the Alexander Dzasokhov, the president of North Ossetia, the region where the attack took place, and other dignitaries.

President Vladimir Putin did not attend, but he was shown at a televised meeting in the Kremlin with several of his ministers. "In spirit and in our hearts, we are all there today, in North Ossetia, in Beslan," he said before leading the group in a minute of silence.

After days of silence from Russia's political leaders about the biggest crisis of Putin's nearly five years in power, several opposition politicians spoke out strongly Monday against the government's handling of the siege and demanded a full explanation.

The Motherland party, founded last year and elected to parliament with tacit Kremlin backing, issued an official statement demanding that the entire government resign "because of their negligence that resulted in numerous civilian victims." The party was joined at the other end of the political spectrum by a Western-oriented liberal, Irina Khakamada, in calling for an independent investigation of how the hostages were taken at School No. 1.

Khakamada, who ran against Putin in the March presidential election, also criticized him for blaming international terrorism for the Beslan crisis. "It would be incorrect to reduce the whole thing to international terrorism waging a war on this country," she said, "because our weakness in the fight against that evil has domestic causes."

But criticism of the government, even from nominally independent outlets in the news media, has become even more difficult in the wake of the Beslan tragedy. On Monday, Raf Shakirov, the influential editor of the newspaper Izvestia, said he had been forced to resign as a result of the paper's Saturday edition. It featured huge pictures of child victims and accounts at variance with the official version of events.

As despairing families continued to put loved ones into the ground, loudspeakers broadcast Dzasokhov's voice as he thanked the mayor of Moscow and the governor of St. Petersburg, among others, for coming to North Ossetia to express their condolences. He continued sonorously with a plea for unity.

"The bosses want to be heard," said Valery Dzarukayev, contemptuously, as the speech wafted across the fresh graves.

"He should resign," said a woman, standing by the graves of Dzurussa Bazrova, 14, and Sasha Urosov, 9, which were being filled in as Dzasokhov spoke. Still other corteges were arriving as the speech continued to boom from the loudspeakers. "They should all be fired."

But mourners, for the most part, kept their disdain in check and simply voted with their feet by leaving the graveyard without turning their heads to the nearby rally.

By early evening, the field was quiet. But more graves were being dug.

"We will work until dark," Bulayev said. "There are many more to bury."

Glasser reported from Moscow.


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