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Europe court faults Russia over storming of besieged school

A woman mourns during a ceremony commemorating the people who died during the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis at the southern Russian town's School Number One in Beslan, September 3, 2015

Russian authorities breached European human rights laws when they stormed a school seized by Chechen militants in 2004, resulting in the deaths of some 300 hostages, the continent’s rights court ruled on Thursday.

Among the 330 dead were 180 children. A further 750 people were wounded when security forces, which the court said used “tank cannon, grenade launchers and flamethrowers”, moved in to free more than 1,000 hostages at Beslan.

This, said the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, “contributed to the casualties among the hostages” and broke treaty requirements to respect the “right to life” by failing to restrict lethal force to that which was “absolutely necessary”.

The Kremlin described the court’s conclusion as “unacceptable”, and a spokesman said Russia could not agree with its ruling.

Militants demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya seized some 1,100 children, parents and teachers as they celebrated the first day of the school year in September 2004. Three days later some of the rebels detonated explosives during a bloody shootout when Russian forces moved in.

The court also said Russian authorities had been aware of a possible rebel attack on public places such as schools but had not prepared sufficiently. “While certain security measures had been taken, in general the preventive measures in the present case could be characterised as inadequate,” it said.

The court ordered Russia to pay 2.955 million euros (£2.5 million) in damages and 88,000 euros in legal costs.

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