Policemen Beef Up Security in Beslan

For MTRita Sidakova, who lost her daughter, hanging an anti-Kremlin sign at the Beslan Mothers' Committee's office Friday.
BESLAN, North Ossetia -- Soldiers patrolled the streets with automatic weapons here Sunday, while police stopped cars entering and leaving town, meticulously checking the documents of drivers and passengers and asking them why they were going to Beslan.

"It is election day," a police officer explained after asking a reporter for identification. "You never know what could happen here. We received orders to thoroughly check everyone entering the city."

The safety measures were a bitter reminder of the terrorist attack three years ago on School No. 1 that left more than 330 people dead, many of them children. After all, a police officer seized by the terrorists on their way from Ingushetia to Beslan later testified that police did not stop the covered military truck carrying the attackers at several checkpoints.

Celebrating election day as a holiday is a tradition stretching back to Soviet times. But for people here, the State Duma elections were no cause for joy: Many are still mourning friends and relatives they lost in the horrific attack.

Fatima, 35, said she and her husband braved the heavy security and cold, rainy weather because voting is "our duty."

"Even though I doubt that my vote will be taken into account," Fatima, who lost two friends in the School siege, said outside School No. 9, the school built by Moscow City Hall for the children of Beslan. She and her husband, Aslan, will vote for A Just Russia, Fatima said.

Voters had to pass through metal detectors and show identification to police to enter the polling station on the school's premises.

Outside a vocational institute not far from School No. 1, a group of old women dressed in black discussed whom to vote for. The Communists received two endorsements.

"We never had terrorist attacks under the Communists," said Raya Tkhosova, 80.

Valentina Kanukova, 81, said she would vote for the Communists because she had difficulties making ends meet.

"I used to get a pension of 120 rubles, and that was enough to feed and dress my family," Kanukova said. "Now I would starve with such a pension if my children didn't help me."

Next to the entrance to the institute, a portrait and various pictures of President Vladimir Putin in camouflage covered an entire wall. "Our Supreme Commander," a sign under the pictures read. Someone had defaced Putin's pictures with numerous pornographic drawings.

"I don't like him," Kanukova, who lost two great-grandsons in the attack, said of Putin. "Our children died and he did nothing to help."

To protest the elections, in which Putin headed the ticket of United Russia, Beslan mothers on Friday hung a sign outside the small office of the Beslan Mothers' Committee, a nongovernmental organization, that said they would not forgive authorities for the tragedy.

Near the office's entrance, the mothers had placed some framed pictures taken shortly after the siege's bloody conclusion that showed burned bodies and human remains.

"It is terrible to look at it, isn't it?" said committee member Rita Sidakova, whose young daughter died in the attack. "But this is what happened to our children. They died such a terrible death."

The sign and the pictures were left out all day Friday, but the women decided not to protest Sunday.

"We thought that people might interpret it as a political act," committee head Susanna Dudiyeva said. "What we want is for nobody to forget what happened here three years ago."