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Anger grows over gas tactics

Tatyna Tkachuk, who survived the hostage crisis, lays flowers at the scene

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Russian anger builds over hostage gas deaths (October 28)
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Calls are growing in Russia for an investigation into why doctors were not provided an antidote to the gas used during an operation to free hostages held at a Moscow theatre.

Captors demanding an end to the war in Chechnya held about 800 hostages for 58 hours, killing two before Russian forces stormed the building early on Saturday.

Moscow's chief doctor said 115 hostages died from health problems stemming from the "knockout" gas pumped into the building to subdue the Chechen rebels just before the raid.

Alexei Arbatov, head of the Russian parliament's defence committee, told CNN: "I blame the authorities for not providing the doctors with antidotes and instructions on how to use them.

"That was certainly a great blunder, and many people are paying for that blunder with their health -- and some even with their life," he said.

Because Russian authorities refused to tell doctors what was used, doctors spent the first few hours testing various antidotes before they found something that worked. The situation has angered doctors and the public.

About 400 people remained hospitalised on Monday.

Anguished relatives have descended on Moscow hospitals, begging for news of their kin, while others have been scouring the city morgues.

Tatiana Lukashova's 26-year-old daughter, Masha Panova, was a hostage and is now missing.

Lukashova saw a broadcast on the ORT television station Saturday that showed her daughter lying on a mattress in a hospital corridor with an oxygen mask on.

"But we didn't hear what hospital it was, and our search through all the hospitals was in vain," Lukashova told Reuters.

One doctor expressed frustration at being powerless to help survivors. "I saw no gunshot wounds at all. Those who died had swallowed their vomit or their tongue or their hearts had stopped," he told the Nezavisimaya Gazet daily.

"If only we had known beforehand. If they had told us that... it might have been a bit different."

U.S. officials believe the gas may have contained a chemical building block also found in heroin or morphine-based agents. (Full story)

"Certainly there was a huge overdose because those who used it had to guarantee that even the terrorists sitting away from ventilation hatches would not have a chance to activate and explode the devices that they had," Arbatov said.

Medical officials pointed out that the hostages had been without food and drink for almost three days, and were virtually motionless in their chairs -- making them more vulnerable to the side effects of any gas used.

"All [this] took the toll on their physical and mental condition and clearly made them much more vulnerable to the agent," Arbatov said.

Survivor Andrei Naumov told CNN: "The gas used was without smell or taste and was invisible. Soon after it was pumped in, I lay on the floor and remember nothing after that -- I woke up in hospital.

"I think the terrorists were really serious about killing us. They knew they could not get away and they wanted to kill all the hostages.

"I will always remember that day, and always the remember the people who saved us. I thank them."

Moscow declared a day of mourning Monday, and President Vladimir Putin expressed his sorrow over the hostage deaths.

"We must remember those by uniting," he said.

But he also issued a defiant message to any others considering launching a similar action in Russia, telling government members: "International terrorism is increasingly cruel... if anyone tries to apply such means to our country, Russia will reply with measures adequate to the threats in all the locations of the terrorists, their organisations or their ideological and financial instigators."

--Correspondent Mike Hanna and State Department producer Elise Labotte contributed to this report.

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