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120 funerals in one day for Russian town

BESLAN, RUSSIA - Rain poured down on the people of Beslan Monday as they buried more children and marked the first of two national days of mourning for the victims of a school massacre.

About 120 victims were buried Monday alone in the stricken town of 30,000 people.

Beslan funeral.

Officials have told gravediggers in the southern Russian town to be ready for 600 bodies, though the official death count still stands at about 335 children and adults. That doesn't include 30 of the armed militants who had taken them hostage and were killed by security officials as the 62-hour siege ended.

Grieving relatives and friends attended dozens of wakes throughout the weekend, some for multiple children in the same family.

Small coffins were adorned with photos of smiling children dressed in their best clothes, and parents struggled to explain to surviving youngsters how a political cause could have led to so much devastation.

Planes from Italy and the United States delivered extra medical supplies to deal with about 400 injured adults and children, many of whom are fighting for their lives.

On Sept. 1, the first day of classes after the summer break, about 35 armed extremists linked to the Chechen rebellion herded an estimated 1,000 children, teachers and parents into the Beslan school's gymnasium.

Later reports said large amounts of weapons and explosives had been hidden in the gym days or weeks in advance, perhaps during renovations to the floor. The militants placed a cordon of mines and bombs around their hostages as they negotiated with authorities for the release of rebel prisoners from Chechnya and nearby Ingushetia.

Most of the dead were killed on Friday when a pair of explosions, apparently the accidental detonation of two of the bombs placed by the militants, caused part of the school's roof to collapse.

The male and female militants fired on many panicked children as they used the chance to flee their captors after two days without food and water, crouching in cramped quarters in a state of constant terror.

About a third of the hostage-takers were reported to be Arabs. Militant Islamic groups have long been sympathetic to Chechen rebels' push to obtain independence from Moscow for the republic, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Russian politicians struggled to find the right way to address the tragedy.

Some politicians called for an independent investigation into the attack, and even Russia's state television network said the government must accept a share of blame for mishandling the crisis.

Russian Orthodox Church faithful light candles for the victims in a Moscow church Sunday. (AP Photo)

President Vladimir Putin had previously blamed the country's security services for failing to do enough to prevent terrorist acts.

On Monday, Russia's foreign minister said he welcomed an offer by Israel to share its counter-terrorism expertise to combat further Chechen attacks.

One-sixth of Israel's population consists of emigrants from the former Soviet Union, so the school massacre has great resonance there.

Lavrov was careful to say he would also seek help in combatting terrorism from Arab nations, many of which are traditional Russian allies.

In a separate development, the death toll from another attack linked to Chechen rebels has risen to 10.

A 20-year-old man died Monday from injuries he suffered in a suicide bombing outside a Moscow subway station a week ago.

More than 50 people were wounded in the Aug. 31 attack by a female bomber.





VIDEO: Bill Gillespie reports for CBC-TV
(Runs 3:55)

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AUDIO: Bill Gillespie reports for CBC-Radio
(Runs 1:49)

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