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Putin: 'An attack on our country'

Russian leader admits weakness in face of terrorism

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Timeline reconstructs what happened as the standoff ended in a hail of gunfire.

Gunfire, chaos as hostages run for safety.

• Interactive: Map of school grounds
• Timeline:  How the siege unfolded
• Eyewitness:  Death and horror
• Captor: 'We'll shoot until our guns stop'
• Siege jolts world leaders
Chechnya (Russia)
Vladimir V. Putin

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the hostage massacre in Beslan an attack on the entire country and made a surprising admission of weakness in the face of terrorism.

Speaking to his nation in a televised address Saturday, the Kremlin leader said the Soviet Union's collapse had left the country unable to react to attacks and warned: "Weak people are beaten."

Putin said the government must develop more effective ways of securing itself and improving its actions against terrorists.

"Here, it would have been more effective if we acted in time and more professionally," he said.

"We have to admit we did not pay much attention to the complexities and to the dangers of this process of what was going on in our own country and the world as a whole."

Hundreds of people were killed after terrorists seized a school building in the southern region of North Ossetia and held more than 1,000 students and adults hostage.

Earlier Saturday, Putin ordered the borders closed in North Ossetia as security forces searched for participants in the massacre.

In his 10-minute address, which followed an early morning visit to Beslan, Putin called the massacre "an attack on our country" and urged Russians to join together to fight terrorism.

"It is difficult to speak and it is bitter. On our territory a terrible tragedy has happened. Over these last few days each of us has been suffering deeply," Putin said.

He also said there must be improvements in security in the restive northern Caucasus region.

"We must create a much more effective system of security. We must demand that our security forces act at a level appropriate to the level and scope of the new threats."

Putin suggested that security forces which stormed the school seized by Chechen militants had to adopt new tactics to guard against large loss of life in future.

"It is vital to create an effective anti-crisis management system -- including fundamentally new approaches in the activity of the security forces," he said.

He said that since the fall of the Soviet Union, the nation was weakened and unable to respond effectively to terrorism.

"In any case, we couldn't adequately react. ... We showed weakness, and weak people are beaten," he said.

He noted in particular that Russia's borders had become porous and "unprotected from either West or East," and that corruption had pervaded the law enforcement agencies.

His comments came amid criticism from people in Beslan over the handling of the crisis by security forces.

"There is no choice," Putin said. "Will we allow ourselves to be blackmailed and to abandon ourselves to panic? It is the mobilization of the nation against a common threat."

Putin praised the Beslan residents for their courage and morale, saying that in his trip to the region he saw people "who were literally drunk with grief and pain" but had the strength to support one another.

"In these inhuman conditions, they remained humans," Putin said.

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