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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kulayev Makes Final Plea as Beslan Trial Ends

VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia -- A judge retired to consider his verdict Thursday on the only person to stand trial for the Beslan school attack that killed more than 300 people, half of them children.

Prosecutors have requested the death penalty for Nurpashi Kulayev, who they say is the only surviving hostage-taker of the group that stormed Beslan's school in September 2004.

However, some victims' relatives say the authorities are using Kulayev as a scapegoat. They say a heavy-handed rescue operation caused many of the deaths but no officials have so far been brought to trial.

"I do not consider myself guilty, not for the death of a single child or adult," said Kulayev, his voice trembling, from a glass box in the courtroom when the judge asked him to enter a final plea.

"As for the people who are guilty, let them confess their guilt when they are caught," he said.

The judge hearing the case in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, said the court would reconvene to announce its verdict. He gave no date.

A moratorium on the death penalty is in force in Russia, so the harshest sentence would be life imprisonment.

Five women who lost relatives in the siege were on the seventh day of a hunger strike Thursday to protest a trial they say has been a whitewash.

"The [officials] want to cover up Beslan. They do not want to punish the people who are to blame ... who gave the order for tanks and grenade launchers to fire on the school," said Ella Kesayeva of the Voice of Beslan.

Her group has demanded a retrial. Other relatives' groups have supported the death penalty for Kulayev.