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Officials Say 26 Hostages Released in Southern Russia - 2004-09-02


Officials say gunmen holding hundreds of hostages in a school in southern Russia have released 26 women and children.

Earlier, two explosions were heard outside the school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. Large plumes of smoke were seen rising over the building. Reports say a car was on fire, but the circumstances around the blaze were unclear.

President Vladimir Putin for now has ruled out using force to end the crisis, saying the main goal is to save the lives of the hostages.

The Russian leader postponed a trip to Turkey to deal with the situation.

The gunmen stormed the school Wednesday and some of the attackers are reported to be wearing belts with explosives.

Some deaths have been reported, but the exact number is unclear. Reports say the gunmen are holding at least 350 people -- many of them children.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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