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Putin OK's probe of school deaths

Had dismissed idea of forming Duma panel

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin agreed yesterday to a parliamentary investigation of the bloody school hostage siege in southern Russia, less than a week after he had reportedly dismissed the idea by saying such an inquiry might turn into "a political show."

Putin had faced criticism after earlier ruling out a public probe of the standoff in Beslan, which the government has blamed on Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

In a meeting shown prominently on state-run television, the lawmaker who heads the upper house of parliament, Sergei Mironov, told Putin the Federation Council would aim to form an investigative commission.

Putin agreed, telling Mironov in the Kremlin meeting that "we are thoroughly interested in receiving a complete, objective picture of the tragic events connected with the seizure of the hostages."

The president had reportedly said only an internal inquiry would be conducted into the crisis that ended Sept. 3 in a chaos of gunfire and explosions and killed at least 330 hostages, warning that a parliamentary probe could turn into "a political show."

Some Putin critics had doubts about a parliamentary investigation. "Putin has shown that he doesn't consider it necessary to share with the society any information on Beslan," said Alexander Golts, a military observer for the magazine Yezhenedelny Zhurnal.

Putin's initial resistance to a public inquiry had prompted criticism, notably from Ruslan Aushev, a political rival who helped negotiate the release of 26 hostages from the school.

"I think the Federation Council and the Duma are obliged to take part in the process," the newspaper Noviye Izvestia quoted Aushev -- the former president of Ingushetia, which borders North Ossetia -- as saying. The Duma is the lower chamber of parliament.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Al-Jazeera he was "certain that Shamil Basayev directly managed this operation," according to the transcript of an interview released by the Foreign Ministry. Other Russian officials had said evidence linked Basayev to the attack, but Lavrov's statement was the clearest accusation against the rebel leader.

Yesterday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the US and British embassies in Moscow to demand the extradition of Chechen rebel figures who have been given asylum. Demonstrators brandished signs including one claiming "The US is sponsoring the war in the Caucasus."

In an interview, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sought to ease Russia's irritation with his suggestions that ultimately there must be political dialogue to resolve the war in Chechnya. "We stand united with the Russians" against terrorism, Powell said.

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