Moscow court to hear suits by siege victims


A Russian court has agreed to hear lawsuits worth millions of euros in damages filed after the death of dozens of hostages in a Moscow theatre.

A total of 129 hostages were killed when Russian special forces used a strong opiate-based gas in October to storm the Chechen rebel-held central Moscow theatre.

In a country where damage awards seldom exceed a few thousand euro, 38 claimants are seeking about €40 million in compensation for the hostage-taking and the lethal use of gas by Russian forces to end the three-day siege.

"Previously it wasn't clear whether the court would actually accept the suits, but now the question is over how much the victims will get in compensation," their lawyer said after today's closed-door session. Hearings will begin on January 16t.

The case is widely expected to set a precedent for similar claims in the future.

After the attack, the city of Moscow promised about €5,000 to relatives of each victim and half that amount to those who survived the siege. Many survivors said the sums were too small.

Survivors sued Moscow city authorities instead of the federal government because Russian law states victims of acts classified as terrorism must seek compensation from the region where an attack occurs.

Moscow officials have said the case is groundless because obliging local authorities to pay compensation was tantamount to declaring them responsible for the hostage-taking.