Hundreds gather to mourn crash victims

UFA - Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unannounced visit Monday to the Ural Mountains city of Ufa to pay respects to dozens of local children killed in an air crash over Germany and buried earlier in the day.

Earlier in the day, Orthodox and Muslim clergymen offered prayers for those killed in last week's crash, in which 45 Ufa schoolchildren perished.

The victims' families then gathered privately for quiet burials out of the public eye, hours after 33 coffins were delivered to Ufa.
Russian television reports showed mourners clustered around flower-laden wooden coffins.

"It's a great and heavy loss for everybody," Talgat Tadzhuddin, the chief Russian Islamic leader, told RTR television from Ufa, where he took part in the ceremony.

In all, 71 people were killed when a Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 bound for Barcelona, Spain, slammed into a Boeing cargo jet operated by DHL over Lake Constance on Germany's border with Switzerland.

Ufa, the capital of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, has been hit especially hard by the accident. The 45 Ufa children included many leading students and athletes from city schools.

Bashkortostan Prime Minister Rafail Baidavletov read a message of sympathy at the ceremony and said a similar memorial would be held Friday, when 28 more bodies are to be returned to Ufa, about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) east of Moscow.

"This misfortune has crossed out the clear and wonderful lives of these children," Baidavletov said. "This terrible tragedy has found response not only in the hearts of citizens of Bashkortostan, but throughout Russia and the whole world."

Putin, who was traveling in the provinces, made an unscheduled stop in Ufa, the Kremlin press service confirmed. Russian news agencies said he went immediately to the cemetery from the airport.

Parents have decided against a suggestion by one that the children be buried in a common grave.

However, media reports said some of the victims would be interred near one another at an Ufa cemetery.

Thirty-one of the crash victims were buried in Ufa on Monday. Police and Federal Security Service officers sealed off the cemetery, keeping all but the families and others close to the victims out.

The investigation has focused on the actions of Swiss air traffic controllers, in particular whether they gave the Russian pilot sufficient warning to descend before the collision at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,500 meters).

Yunir Valeyev lost his son Vener in the accident, and said the parents were anxiously following the investigation.

"We have very many questions and I think it's the duty of every parent to find out to the end how it happened," Valeyev told RTR.