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Beslan Mothers Stay In Court All Night

North Ossetia's top judge promised on Thursday a fair hearing into possible misconduct by senior officials in the Beslan hostage crisis after former hostages and their relatives camped out overnight in the republic's Supreme Court.

Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said a lower court would objectively consider their appeal to investigate officials' conduct during the 2004 school attack, which killed more than 330 people, more than half of them children.

Last month, Vladikavkaz's Leninsky District Court ordered the local prosecutor's office to open an investigation, paving the way for the possible prosecution of former North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov and the former head of the Federal Security Service's local branch, Valery Andreyev.

But prosecutors -- whom Beslan survivors and relatives accuse of ignoring evidence that might incriminate officials -- appealed the decision to the republic's top court. The court on Wednesday sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing, citing procedural violations.

Beslan petitioners from two organizations, the Mothers of Beslan and the Voice of Beslan, refused to leave the Supreme Court in central Vladikavkaz after the ruling, spending the night in the building and demanding to meet with Aguzarov.

Voice of Beslan head Ella Kesayeva said she was glad the judge had met with them for an hour and offered assurances, but she expressed doubt that an investigation would ever be opened.

"We think there will always be a way to stall our pleas," she said by telephone.

"We think the prosecutor's office will not open a criminal case because it would require summoning high-ranking officials to court as witnesses, and the prosecutor's office is acting in the interests of the Kremlin, which is not interested in digging into the Beslan tragedy," she said.

The republic's Supreme Court last year convicted the sole known surviving hostage-taker and sentenced him to life in prison. Several local police officers are now on trial on charges of failing to heed warnings of the attack and take action.

But some survivors and their relatives maintain that the officials in charge of running the crisis headquarters botched their duties, significantly increasing the death toll.

Prosecutors have refused to investigate anyone overseeing the operations. They have also maintained that there is no evidence to suggest that explosions inside the school could have been triggered by flame-throwing projectile fired by federal commandos.

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