Index

DATE=8/24/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA SUB (L-UPDATE) NUMBER=2-265820 BYLINE=LAURIE KASSMAN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's top prosecutor says he is opening a criminal investigation into the sinking of the Kursk submarine, which claimed 118 lives. Correspondent Laurie Kassman reports from Moscow that some relatives of the crewmen have sailed out to the accident site to drop flowers over the area. TEXT: The Prosecutor General told reporters the investigation will be supervised by his office, top military law enforcement officials and the Federal Security Service. The announcement comes amid speculation about what caused the Kursk nuclear submarine to sink to the bottom of the sea. The unsubstantiated rumors range from collision with a foreign submarine or unexploded World War Two mine, to a suicide bombing by a Dagestani sailor on board the Kursk. Independent military experts suspect an explosion in the torpedo compartment. In a state T-V interview on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin said he would punish anyone found responsible for the disaster but only after a thorough investigation could clarify what happened. For now, Mr. Putin has refused to accept the resignations of top defense and military officers. While investigations get underway, grieving relatives prepared, in their own ways, to honor the 118 crewmen of the Kursk. About 150 relatives decided on Thursday to sail out to the accident site to lay wreaths on the water where the vessel sank. Most of the other 600 relatives refused to take part in the national day of mourning on Wednesday. Instead, they urged President Vladimir Putin to postpone any official mourning ceremony until the bodies have been recovered from the wreckage. Many families have raged against officials for the contradictory information and inadequate assistance for them. There is public anger, too, over the government's delay in seeking foreign help for the rescue mission. But the criticism does not appear to have seriously damaged President Putin's popularity. A poll published since the Kursk accident shows his approval rating has dropped only slightly and still surpasses 65 percent. (Signed) NEB/LMK/GE/FC 24-Aug-2000 11:30 AM EDT (24-Aug-2000 1530 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .