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A memorial, boat trip for relatives of sailors

Wreaths tossed on waves above sub; Putin slams critics

SHARE A memorial, boat trip for relatives of sailors

MOSCOW — Relatives of the 118 crewmen who died in Russia's Kursk submarine attended an emotional memorial ceremony Thursday and later sailed to the Arctic disaster site to toss wreaths and flowers into the water.

Relatives boycotted a national day of mourning Wednesday, when President Vladimir Putin said he felt guilty and responsible for the Aug. 12 sinking of the nuclear vessel.

But Thursday, around 150 boarded a ship to travel to the site of the tragedy. Some still refused to accept all of the crew were dead.

"Of course, I don't want to, I don't want to throw a wreath, throw something. I am waiting, I am waiting," Boris Vlasov told ORT public television before he boarded the ship destined for the disaster site in the Barents Sea.

"He told me: 'Three days I'll be away, Dad, and then we will start on some work together,' " he added.

Putin's comments Wednesday were his first reaction to Monday's news the crew was dead. As well as expressing his sorrow, he also hit back at critics and defended the military.

Recriminations in the wake of the disaster continue. A Norwegian officer who led the team of divers that opened up the Kursk Monday said he had nearly called off the operation in fury at the fact Russia gave him wrong information.

The prosecutor-general's office also said it had opened a criminal case in connection with the sinking.

Putin, lambasted for inaction in the first days of the crisis, met around 500 relatives and friends of the dead sailors Tuesday. They grilled him for hours and asked him to make sure the bodies of the crew were quickly recovered.

Russian NTV television showed a memorial ceremony in the small navy town of Vidyayevo in north Russia where the Kursk began its last mission before sinking on Aug. 12.

The ceremony was linked to the laying of a foundation stone for a monument to the crew.

A large crowd of relatives, many sobbing, some holding flowers, listened to a speech by Vice Admiral Vladimir Dobroskuchenko. One woman, overcome with emotion, fainted and doctors rushed to her assistance.

"We grieve that such a tragedy happened. Of course the best monument for them is for us never to forget them," he said.

Prominent in the crowd was Irina Lyachin, wife of the Kursk's commander, Gennady, looking exhausted but not openly crying.

The Kursk sank, either after explosions on board or a collision, possibly both. The exact cause has yet to be determined.

It is sitting on the sea bed 354 feet down. Salvagers have said it might only be possible to raise the wreck and recover the bodies next year.

Despite official assurances the Kursk's two reactors are safe, ecologists want the ship raised to stop radiation leaks.

Putin expresses guilt

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev told state RTR television the men would receive posthumous decorations.

Putin and the military brass have faced fierce criticism for their handling of the affair.

In his television interview Wednesday night, Putin said he had been distraught over the disaster. "I have a great feeling of responsibility and guilt for this tragedy," the president said, leaving long pauses between his words.

"First of all about the meeting (with the relatives), what can I say here? Words are not enough, they are difficult to find. I want to wail."

But he said there would be no wave of sackings and he had put on hold resignation bids by Sergeyev, navy chief Vladimir Kuroyedov and Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov until the end of the investigation.

The Norwegian commander who led the diving team, Rear Admiral Einar Skorgen, lashed out again at the Russians over the quality of the information they were given. On several occasions during the rescue operation he contradicted Russian statements.

"I was really angry," he told the Norwegian daily Nordlandsposten.

Skorgen, who commands the armed forces in north Norway, said he telephoned the Northern Fleet to say the mission would be in jeopardy unless Russia provided correct data.

"At times there were so many wrong details and disinformation from Russia that it was close to endangering the divers," Skorgen said. "We couldn't rely on the information we were getting," he said.