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Putin said no negotiations with rebels { September 11 2001 }

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Putin: Why talk to child killers?

BESLAN, Russia (CNN) -- Vladimir Putin has criticized Western leaders in the wake of the school siege tragedy for urging Russia to negotiate with Chechen rebels, whom he likened to al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The Russian president was reacting to criticism by some foreign leaders of the handling of the crisis in the North Ossettian town of Beslan in which at least 338 died -- half of them children.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot had said it was "very difficult to judge from a distance whether the right decision was taken" when special forces stormed the school, in which militants had seized hundreds of children and adults.

Putin likened demands by Washington that Moscow negotiate with the separatists in Chechnya -- where rebels are believed to have planned the school siege -- to the U.S. talking to the terrorists behind the September 11, 2001 attacks.

These are not "freedom fighters," Putin said. "Would you talk with Osama Bin Laden?" he asked. Putin said the Chechen separatists are trying to ignite ethnic tensions in the former Soviet Union and it could have severe repercussions. (Full story)

"Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?" the Russian president was quoted as saying by Britain's Guardian newspaper on Tuesday.

"You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers?" said Putin, who spoke to a group of foreign journalists and academics late on Monday.

Meanwhile, in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he had phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express "sympathy and horror" over the attack in the southern Russian town of Beslan. (Full story)

Blair was speaking as Russia held a second national day of mourning after nearly 200 children and other victims were laid to rest in Beslan.

The small community faces another day of multiple funerals as gravediggers have been told to prepare for as many as 600 burials overall.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a march in Moscow to voice the country's revulsion at the recent string of terror attacks.

As flags flew at half-staff across the country there was a small rally in the capital of Chechnya. A suspect has said the hostage-takers were told their goal was to "start a war across the Caucasus."

Appearing on state television, the unidentified man said the attack was ordered by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov and warlord Shamil Basayev, who have been fighting Russia for independence for a decade.

Ten of the dead hostage-takers were from Arab countries, authorities have said. Twenty-six hostage-takers and 10 Russian special forces died in the siege.

The suspect earlier had said he did not fire a shot inside the school and that he "pitied the children" who were taken captive. Few other details were released about the suspect.

In Beslan, the sound of shrieking mothers pierced the air on Monday as thousands of mourners gathered in a muddy field.

"We pray for the souls of the innocents who were killed," said one priest. "May they rest in peace."

Lines and lines gathered in the field set aside for burials, as family members clutched pictures of their loved ones.

"As parents, we should die before our kids. But I have seen my daughter's death," said Murat, a father whose daughter, Allana, 15, was killed with most of her classmates.

"Now, our home feels cold. There are many homes like this in Beslan."

Zinaida Kudziyeva, 42, and her 10-year-old daughter, Madina had tried to flee when the first explosions went off and were caught in the crossfire between militants and Russian forces, relatives said.

"They couldn't run away. They didn't have time," The Associated Press quoted Irakly Khosulev, a relative from the nearby city of Vladikavkaz, as saying. "Someone should answer for this."

Hundreds remain missing and in some cases entire families were murdered.

At a makeshift morgue where bodies are covered by plastic sheets, those looking for loved ones wear masks because the stench is overwhelming.

The bodies are often charred beyond recognition, and relatives have been searching for rings or other jewelry that might help to identify them.

Of the more than 700 people who needed medical help after the crisis, 411 remained hospitalized on Monday -- 214 of them children, the North Ossetian health ministry told AP.

Of the most badly injured, 23 were in Moscow and 11 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

Residents, politicians and even Russian state television have raised questions about the massacre.

"At such moments, society needs the truth," Rossiya television commentator Sergei Brilyov was quoted by AP as saying.

Brilyov blamed the "system of administration," where "everything hangs on the bravery of the rank and file, but generals can't bring themselves to act until the president throws ideas to them."

His criticism -- which AP suggested was sanctioned by the Kremlin -- stopped short of Putin, who also criticized Russia's law enforcement agencies in a weekend speech to the nation.

The Interfax news agency said two politicians -- liberal Irina Khakamada and nationalist Sergei Glazyev -- have issued separate calls for an independent investigation into the crisis.

Other politicians directed their criticism at Putin himself.

"The official claim that international terrorism is behind the Beslan tragedy is a trick designed to divert responsibility away from the Kremlin," liberal Boris Nemtsov told Reuters.

Officials have appealed for calm in the volatile Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, where the attack took place.

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and Correspondents Ryan Chilcote and Matthew Chance in Beslan and contributed to this report

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