Beslan tragedy victims

Thousands of mourners carrying red carnations and roses filed into the gutted gymnasium of Beslan's School No. 1 and fanned out across the town's crowded cemetery on Thursday, gathering to commemorate the anniversary of the hostage tragedy that claimed 331 lives.

Many of the mourners went from their school to the nearby cemetery, where rows and rows of grave markers carrying children's names, dates and pictures testify to the town's loss.

"Of course, everyone, all Ossetians will mark this mournful day, the saddest day maybe in our history. How could it be otherwise? They shot children in the back - 5 years old, 10 years old," said Sergei Zutsev, 65, whose nephew was gravely wounded, the AP says.

The assault, which began a year ago Thursday and lasted three days _ by masked, heavily armed guerrillas stunned Russia and prompted President Vladimir Putin to make sweeping political changes. Across the country, schools started their usually festive opening day ceremonies with a moment of silence.

"Today, millions of people both here and abroad, all who know about this terrible catastrophe and who have a heart, of course remember this nightmare," Putin said, speaking at the Kuban State Agriculture University.

"Let you and I, too, refrain from saying words that are perhaps correct but superfluous, and simply be quiet for a few seconds. Let us remember the children, those who perished, who suffered at the hands of terrorists."

For some of the young victims, however, it was time to move beyond the grief and anger that has hung over the town for the past year.

"Yes it's difficult to remember, but I can also put it out of my mind if I want," said 16-year-old Akhshar Tebiyev, who had been held hostage along with two sisters, who survived, and a cousin, who did not.

"I'm definitely looking forward to school starting."

Many victims' relatives have accused the government of mounting a cover-up, insisting that the militants had help from corrupt officials to allow them to cross heavily policed territory of North Ossetia, where Beslan is located.

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