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Turkey hotel siege ends peacefully

Escaped hostages
Escaped hostages are taken away from scene  

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Pro-Chechen gunmen who took up to 100 people hostage at a luxury Istanbul hotel have surrendered, CNN Turk reports.

Istanbul's police chief had confirmed the tense situation had finished -- and the hostages were being released, CNN Turk's Bora Bayraktar said.

The standoff involving about 20 gunmen claiming to be pro-Chechens had lasted nearly 12 hours before the hostage-takers armed with automatic rifles surrendered on Monday morning.

Police said they had encountered no resistance from the gunmen and there were no reports of anybody being injured.


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The hostage-takers had earlier identified themselves as Chechen rebels and told CNN by phone that they were demanding that the United States use its influence to denounce Russia for its part in the war in Chechnya.

The Turkish authorities are reported to have taken a firm stand during negotiations while the Russian government had condemned the taking of hostages calling it a "barbaric act."

Four Russians had been part of the hostage contingency.

The gunmen had taken control of the Swissotel Bosphorus amid a hail of bullets around 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) on Sunday evening.

Some hotel guests fled during the initial chaos, while local media said about 25 hostages had been released since the standoff began.

Hundreds of Turkish police, including snipers, had surrounded the hotel and about six ambulances had been parked outside.

No injuries have been reported.

The gunmen, who support the high profile rebel Muhamed Tokcan, had earlier held talks with the governor of Istanbul, Erol Cakir, and the chief of police.

The hostages were mostly Western, including many Europeans and some Americans. Britain's foreign office confirmed on Monday that some Britons had been held hostage.

Private CNN-Turk television said 11 SwissAir workers were among the hostages at the hotel which overlooks the Bosphorus .

The gunmen had used hotel staff to take guests from their rooms and had brought them down to the lobby. Others were able to escape from the building and were taken to the Istanbul Hilton.

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Police said the gunmen were loyal to Tokcan, who led the hijacking of a passenger ship on the Black Sea in 1996.

Tokcan was in the hotel negotiating by phone with Cakir.

The hostage-leader escaped from a Turkish jail in 1997 after serving less than a year of an eight-year sentence.

He was re-arrested in 1999 trying to leave Turkey for the Yugoslav province of Kosovo and was released in December 2000 under a widespread prison amnesty.

Scenes of panic

Earlier, witnesses described events surrounding the storming of the hotel.

Turkish police officers take position outside of the Swissotel in Istanbul  

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, he said.

A Belgian man visiting guests in the hotel told Reuters news agency: "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."

Other witnesses told Turkish television that guests had screamed and ran as the attackers burst into the hotel.

It is the fourth such action carried out by pro-Chechen forces in Turkey during the past two years, including the taking of hostages on two separate Russian planes.

Russian forces are currently engaged in their second major military assault on Chechnya, aiming to bring the rebel Caucasus region back under Moscow's control. The first Chechen conflict took place in 1994-1996.

Turkey arrested and jailed the hijackers of the Avrasya ferry but the majority of them subsequently escaped from prisons across Turkey.

No one was hurt in the four-day hijacking, despite threats to blow up the vessel.

Sympathy for the Chechens exists among some in Turkey as they share the same Islamic faith. Around five million Turks trace their roots to Caucasus areas such as Chechnya while an estimated 25,000 Chechens live in Istanbul and western Turkey.

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Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
Chechen government
The Bosphorus Swissotel
The Bosphorus Swissotel

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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