Beslan suspect pleads not guilty

The sole defendant in the trial over last September's deadly Beslan school hostage seizure has pleaded innocent in an emotional session.

    Victims' relatives tried to reach out to attack Nur-Pashi Kulayev

    As prosecutors in Vladikavkaz concluded nearly two days of reading lists of victims and medical details on Thursday, Nur-Pashi Kulayev was asked if he wanted to plead guilty to any of the charges including terrorism and murder. "No," he said.

    Kulayev also told the judge in a low voice that his brother had introduced him to the group that seized more than 1000 hostages at Beslan's School No 1 on 1 September 2004.

    The attack ended on 3 September in the deaths of more than 330 people - more than half of them children.

    With more than two dozen relatives and survivors in attendance, the trial has alternated between tedium and shrill emotion as prosecutors read the lengthy indictment and spectators occasionally cried, shrieked and sometimes demanded Kulayev be turned over to them for punishment.

    Eyes downcast

    Kulayev, dressed in black shirt and trousers and black shoes, stood in a courtroom cage for the day's proceedings, his eyes downcast.

    In television footage last year, he was shown confessing to participating in the raid, but said he personally did not kill anyone.

    Relatives complained that the
    trial had taken too long

    At a briefing after the court adjourned until next Thursday, Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel declined to say whether Kulayev's plea was unexpected.

    "This is his right. This is his right to see the evidence," Shepel said.

    But, he said, "I consider that we have enough evidence to prove (his guilt) to the court."

    Earlier, as the court adjourned for a midday break, three women threw themselves at bailiffs, angered by the slow pace.

    Irate women

    Bailiffs quickly removed the handcuffed Kulayev from the room as the irate women shrieked and flailed their fists, trying to reach him.

    When the court convened in the morning, several woman started crying and yelling and one woman tried to walk up to the cage to show Kulayev a newspaper page that had dozens of colour photographs of dead children.

    "Kulayev, Kulayev, Kulayev! It's like he
    was the only one there.
    And with a thousand hostages"

    Clara Zosayeva, 65

    More than 1200 hostages were held in a sweltering gymnasium at the Beslan school by more than 30 heavily armed men last September.

    The raid ended in a maelstrom of explosions, gunfire and frightened, bloodied children fleeing the mayhem; more than half those killed were children.

    Officials say 31 of the hostage-takers were killed.

    Seeking revenge

    During the midday break, women dressed in black and headscarves sat on door stoops, sobbing and whimpering; bleary-eyed men second-guessed how riot police stormed the school.

    The siege resulted in the deaths
    of more than 330 people

    "Kulayev, Kulayev, Kulayev! It's like he was the only one there. And with a thousand hostages?" said Clara Zosayeva, 65, whose eight-year-old grandson was killed.

    "It was our own people, the Ossetians, who sold them all out. Beasts!"

    "They've built a show for us. We have to sit here for five, six hours and watch this spectacle! What for?" Zalina Tybloyeva, 45, whose sister, niece and nephew died, said.

    If convicted, Kulayev could get up to life in prison.

    Survivors of the attack and others have called for the death penalty, but Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996 to join the Council of Europe.

    Shepel said the entire trial could take 3-4 months.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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