- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

MOSCOW — Tens of thousands of people rallied outside the Kremlin yesterday in a show of solidarity against terrorism, nearly a week after militants seized a school in southern Russia in a standoff that claimed at least 350 lives, many of them children.

Mourners in the grief-stricken city of Beslan lowered caskets into the damp earth in a third day of burials of victims of the siege, which officials have blamed on Chechens and Islamist militants.

The Moscow crowd of about 130,000 people — some bearing banners saying, “We won’t give Russia to terrorists” — observed a moment of silence at 5 p.m. on the cobblestones near St. Basil’s Cathedral, adjacent to the Kremlin.

The hourlong demonstration, which was organized by a pro-government trade union, echoed President Vladimir Putin’s call for unity in vast, multiethnic Russia and sought to rally its people against enemies the president says receive aid from abroad.

“I have been crying for so many days and I came here to feel that we are actually together,” said Vera Danilina.

In Beslan, gravediggers have opened up two new tracts in the past three days at the city’s muddy cemetery.

Yesterday, relatives opened the tiny coffin of 8-year-old Vasily Reshetnyak, touched his forehead and kissed him goodbye. A favorite toy — a red car — was placed alongside his body.

Although some in Beslan have criticized Mr. Putin for not meeting with survivors, the president has avoided the brunt of the anger over the attacks.

“Of course I support him, and it’s necessary to be even more harsh with terrorists,” said Galina Kiselyova, a history teacher who was at the Moscow rally. “We cannot let go of Chechnya — the Caucasus is ours.”

“Putin, we’re with you,” read a banner at the rally.

The demonstration was heavily advertised on state-controlled television, with prominent actors appealing to citizens to turn out. Banners bore the white, blue and red of Russia’s flag, and speakers echoed Mr. Putin’s statements that terrorists must be crushed.

“We came here to show that we are not indifferent to the series of terrorist acts that have taken place,” said Alexander, a student at a Moscow technical college who did not give his surname.

However, the 18-year-old criticized Russian authorities’ handling of the hostage crisis, and noted the rally was organized by authorities who “told us where and when to come” and was not spontaneous.

In footage broadcast yesterday on NTV television, hundreds of hostages were shown seated in the school’s cramped gym. Many of them had their hands behind their heads. A thick streak of blood stained the wood floor.

Football-sized bundles of explosives were attached to wires and strings hanging from the two basketball hoops. One attacker in camouflage and a black hood stood amid the hostages with a boot on what NTV said was a book rigged with a detonator.

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