Lawsuits begin into deadly Moscow hostage-taking

Russian judge begins hearing landmark, $60 million lawsuits into the deadly hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre in October.

A Russian judge refused to step aside Thursday and let someone else hear a series of unprecedented lawsuits against the city of Moscow over a hostage-taking in October that left 129 people dead.

Lawyers representing victims' families and survivors asked to have the case moved to a higher court, arguing that municipal judges get subsidies from the city. The payments, they said, put these judges into a conflict of interest.

But Judge Maria Gorbacheva dismissed the complaint, ruling that the law requires all branches of government to provide financial support to court staff, including prosecutors and those on the bench.

Gorbacheva began hearing the first two dozen of the more than 60 lawsuits about the siege of a Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels.

Some mothers testified about the way their lives have been shattered by the loss of their children. One woman collapsed in tears in the courtroom, saying she can no longer sleep without taking pills since the death of her 21-year-old son Pavel.

"I don't need anything at all, just give me back my Pavel," sobbed Lyudmila Rybachok.

The suits, which demand almost $60 million US in compensation, are considered legal landmarks in Russia, where court-ordered payments rarely top more than a few thousand dollars.

The three-day hostage-taking ended when Russian forces stormed the theatre after pumping gas into the building that knocked out virtually everyone inside. All 41 Chechen rebels were killed, along with almost 90 of the roughly 800 captives. Most died because of the gas, doctors later said.

Russian law prevents people from suing security agencies for compensation, but a federal law against terrorism allows victims to take the authorities of a specific region to court. This is the first time such a case has been launched, according to lawyers.

Moscow officials, meanwhile, have said they're not responsible for what happened, and don't have the money to pay anyone compensation. Testimony in the suit was scheduled to resume Friday.