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Chechen gets life in prison for '04 Russia school siege

Published: Saturday, May 27 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia — The Beslan school siege trial ended Friday much as it began, with grief-crazed mothers venting their anger at the sole known surviving attacker and at a government they say lied about the tragedy.

The regional Supreme Court convicted Nur-Pashi Kulayev in the deaths of 331 people — more than half of them children — and sentenced him to life in prison. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for his role in the 2004 hostage-taking, but Russia abandoned capital punishment when it joined the Council of Europe a decade ago.

"Kulayev deserves the death penalty but is sentenced to life in prison because a moratorium is in place," Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said.

Asked whether he understood the verdict, Kulayev, a Chechen, nodded his freshly shaved head. His lawyer said he plans to appeal.

As the judge read the verdict, some victims' mothers threw themselves on the glass-and-metal cage where Kulayev stood during the yearlong trial. Police struggled to restrain them.

The women, many wearing black, had crowded the courtroom to hear the sentence. Some held banners, illustrated with pictures of tanks and dead children, that blamed authorities for letting the siege happen.

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