European Criticism Over Poison Gas Mounts | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 28.10.2002
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European Criticism Over Poison Gas Mounts

European officials are calling on Russian authorities to reveal the gas used in Saturday's hostage rescue operation. The gas has been blamed in the deaths of 115.


Hundreds were saved in the rescue operation, but dozens are still suffering from severe gas poisoning.

German and European leaders expressed relief on Monday over the end of the hostage crisis in Moscow. But criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin's handling of the operation is mounting following the revelation that 115 of the 117 hostages killed in the dramatic raid died of poisoning from the gas pumped into the theater by security forces.

Putin and Russian authorities have refused to reveal the type of gas that was used to render almost all of the more than 700 hostages and 50 Chechen rebels in the theater instantly unconscious. Officials have only stated that the gas was a highly concentrated standard anesthetic.

"We have to be clear there is always a danger when using such substances if those affected are in an exceptional situation," said Andrei Seltsovsky, Moscow's chief physician. "And the hostages were under extreme stress because of their lack of food and the shootings going on close to them".

A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry on Monday said Russian officials have not complied with a German request for information about the gas and that it was the Russian's "duty" to answer such questions.

Meanwhile, the international human rights group Amnesty International has called for an independent international investigation into the raid and whether the lethal gas was legal under international law.

Putin has come under considerable international criticism in the media and diplomatic circles for not informing doctors and foreign governments about the gas used. The Russian's steadfast refusal to budge has made it difficult to provide proper treatment for the foreign victims, diplomats have complained.

German doctors investigate source

Doctors treating foreign victims are now taking their own steps to investigate what substance was used.

German military and medical officials in Munich are taking blood and urine samples from two German victims who were airlifted from Moscow to Munich for treatment. Toxicology professor Thomas Zilker, who is treating the 18-year-old Würzburg school girl and a 43-year-old businessman from Filderstadt, told the Associated Press: "It's still a mystery. We can't rule out the possibility that the Russians have developed a secret gas." Zilker told the wire service it appeared to be some sort of anesthetic gas.

A thin line between life and death

In order to knock out the bomb-carrying hostage-takers without them realizing what was happening, Zilker said a considerable amount of the gas had to be used. The concentration of the gas in certain parts of the theater could have led to the high number of deaths, he said, as such gas is difficult to disburse in even dosages. "Determining the dosage is difficult, and there's not a big difference between the amount that can make someone unconscious or kill someone," he said.

He also expressed concern that the hostages who survive the ordeal could suffer from respiratory problems, brain damage or diminished cognitive capacities as a result of their exposure to the dangerous gas. But for the German victims, the prognosis looked good -- with both expected to leave the hospital within a few days.

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