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In Beslan, a tense bid for calm

Russian officials hope to prevent reprisals as 40-day mourning period ends for victims of the school siege.

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Wreaths are stacked in rows along the blackened and bullet-scarred gym walls of School No. 1, along with toys, stuffed animals, tiny backpacks, and other offerings in memory of the scores of children - as well as parents and teachers - who died here amid a storm of explosions and gunfire on Sept. 3.

As the 40-day mourning period observed by the mainly Orthodox Christian population of North Ossetia ended Tuesday, many here said they are struggling to master their feelings of rage and fear. The key hope now, some say, is that tough law enforcement coupled with community pressure will prevent a few angry neighbors from launching violent reprisals against Ossetia's hereditary enemies, the mainly Muslim Ingush, who are widely blamed for the school siege that ended with at least 331 dead, half of them children.

"Everyone here is filled with sorrow, and for some it is unbearable," says Emma Medoyeva, a teacher at nearby School No. 6, which will start receiving many of the survivors next month. "It is so hard to forgive and try to live for the future, but this is our only chance. Most people here want peace."

But, she adds, "People have been grieving and not thinking about how we will continue living after this. Soon we will have to start talking about practical things, and this is going to be very hard."

Deported to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944 along with their ethnic kin, the Chechens, the Ingush returned to find some of their land and homes occupied by Ossetians. After the USSR's collapse, tensions erupted in a five-day border war that killed as many as 800 people and caused tens of thousands of Ingush in North Ossetia to flee.

Until last month, about 21,000 Ingush remained, mostly in the disputed Prigorodny district, about five miles east of Beslan, though some reports say thousands have left, fearing revenge. Scores of Ingush students in North Ossetia were told to leave "for their own protection" last month.

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