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Gunmen storm Turkish hotel

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In this highlighted image the silhouette of a person with their arms in the air is visible inside the hotel  

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A group of armed men have stormed the Swissotel in central Istanbul.

The gunmen took between 50 and 75 people hostage around 11:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET). They were described as "rational," allowing women and children to leave and permitting other guests to use the bathrooms.

Turkish police said the gunmen were believed to be Chechen rebels, and were demanding to speak with Turkish Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan. The incident began about 11:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Between 20 and 25 gunmen were inside the hotel, Istanbul police chief Kazim Abanoz said.

Ambulances are also waiting outside the hotel, but it was not known whether anyone had been wounded.

  AUDIO

NTV journalist Serhat Usak explains the hostage takers' demands

375K/35 sec.
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Hotel worker Alisan Ercan said he heard shots and saw four or five gunmen in the lobby as he ran from the hotel.

Hotel guests were hiding between tables in the lobby, Ercan said.

A Belgian man visiting guests in the hotel told Reuters: "I came into the lobby...then there were two or three men who rushed in. They were dressed in black and there were shots. I ran out immediately and when I was standing in the garden I heard more shots."

The Chechen struggle is popular in Turkey. Turks not only share the Islamic faith with Chechens, but about 5 million Turks trace their roots to Caucasus areas such as Chechnya. Some 25,000 Chechens live in Istanbul and western Turkey.

There are about 80 Caucasus organisations in Turkey and many have been active in promoting the Chechen cause.



RELATED STORIES:
U.N. launches Chechen appeal
January 26, 2001
Russia pledges cash to Chechnya
January 25, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Swissotel Istanbul
Chechen government
Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey

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