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Dec 24, 8:37 AM EST

Russia Court Hears Hostage Victims' Suit

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian court held a preliminary hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit against the city of Moscow by victims of a terrorist raid on a theater this fall, and the plaintiffs' lawyer said his clients were demanding nearly $40 million.

Lawyer Igor Trunov told reporters at the Tverskoi district court that 38 clients had joined the suit, including both former hostages and survivors of those killed. They are asking for a total of $39 million - a level of damages unknown in Russia.

The Oct. 23-26 theater siege by Chechen rebels ended after Russian special forces stormed the building, killing the 41 hostage-takers. At least 127 of the hostages died from the effects of a narcotic gas used to knock out the militants; two died from gunshot wounds.

Trunov has said he is basing his case on Russia's new anti-terrorism law, which he says stipulates that the Russian region where a terrorist attack occurs should pay moral and material damages to the victims.

The court set a Jan. 16 date to start hearings in the case, Trunov said after Tuesday's closed-door session.

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City officials have sharply criticized the lawsuit, saying the federal government - not Moscow - is responsible for the Chechen conflict and its consequences.

Days after the crisis ended, government officials paid $3,150 to the families of hostages who were killed and half that amount to those who survived the ordeal.

And Tuesday, the Moscow city government announced it would pay $47 a month to the children of hostages who died in the theater siege, TVS television reported.

But some survivors have complained the payments were insufficient and that they cannot afford long-term treatment for physical and psychological problems stemming from the incident and the money isn't enough to compensate for the loss of family breadwinners in the raid.

Tatyana Karpova, whose son Alexander died in the siege, said she joined the case not to become a millionaire but to make a point to the Moscow government.

"What the government gives us is nothing," she said on the snowy steps of the courthouse. "We will fight to the end."


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