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Russian Duma to launch new school massacre probe
Updated: 2004-09-17 09:55

Russia will launch a second parliamentary inquiry into the Beslan school hostage massacre, Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said on Thursday, marking a further climbdown by authorities who initially ruled out a probe.

The State Duma lower house will investigate the tragedy, in which more than 320 hostages were killed, separately to the upper house, which announced its inquiry last week.

The investigations mark a U-turn by President Vladimir Putin who originally said any parliamentary probe could turn into a "political show" and ruled out a public inquiry.

Though dominated by pro-Kremlin deputies, the Duma is an elected body, unlike the upper house, and its inquiry will be viewed by analysts as carrying more weight.

Putin has come under international pressure to provide answers on how more than 1,000 parents, teachers and pupils were taken hostage. Half of those who died were children.

The Duma will also discuss lifting a moratorium on the death penalty to use it for terrorists, Gryzlov said.

The law allows for the death penalty for murder, but Russia imposed a moratorium on executions in 1996.

"This question has been raised by many members of society, citizens and deputies," Gryzlov said. "I support the moratorium on using the death penalty, but the situation compels us to return again and again to this topic."

Calls to rescind the measure and resume executions -- by a bullet to the back of the head -- are popular among voters, though it would put Russia at odds with its obligations to the Council of Europe human rights body. Putin opposes lifting the moratorium.

The Duma's inquiry commission, to be set up this month, will also investigate the near-simultaneous crashes of two passenger planes in August, which killed 90 people, and a suicide bombing in Moscow that killed 10 people.

A spokesman for Gryzlov said a group of Duma members was meeting to decide whether to form a joint commission with the Federation Council upper house.

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