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Gunman holds hostages at bank in ex-Soviet republic Georgia

An armed assailant took bank employees and customers hostage Wednesday in the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia, authorities said. Local media reported that up to 19 hostages could be inside the bank.

The Georgian Interior Ministry didn’t comment on how many people were being held in the western town of Zugdidi or what demands the hostage-taker had made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation “to neutralize the assailant,” the ministry said in a statement.

Georgia's national Mtavari TV channel reported that the captor was armed with a hand grenade and demanding $500,000 in cash.

A Georgian police officer takes his position near a bank where an armed assailant took several people hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. The Georgian Interior Ministry didn't immediately say how many people have been taken hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, or what demands the assailant has made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation "to neutralize the assailant," the ministry said in a statement. (AP PhotoZurab Tsertsvadze)

Mtavari TV said it spoke to one of the hostages, who relayed that the assailant was holding 19 people inside the bank. The TV channel aired footage of a room with people sitting on the floor and a man dressed in a military uniform and covering his face holding a rifle.

Georgian broadcaster First Channel reported, citing the Interior Ministry, reported later Wednesday that two hostages had been released while 17 people remained in the bank. Negotiations with the hostage-taker continued, First Channel said.

Georgian police gather at a bank where an armed assailant took several people hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. An armed assailant took several people hostage at a bank in the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia on Wednesday, authorities said. The Georgian Interior Ministry didn't immediately say how many people have been taken hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, or what demands the assailant has made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation "to neutralize the assailant," the ministry said in a statement. (AP PhotoZurab Tsertsvadze)

A Georgian police sniper carries his rifle on a position near a bank where an armed assailant took several people hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. An armed assailant took several people hostage at a bank in the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia on Wednesday, authorities said. The Georgian Interior Ministry didn't immediately say how many people have been taken hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, or what demands the assailant has made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation "to neutralize the assailant," the ministry said in a statement. (AP PhotoZurab Tsertsvadze)

Georgian police gather at a bank where an armed assailant took several people hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. An armed assailant took several people hostage at a bank in the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia on Wednesday, authorities said. The Georgian Interior Ministry didn't immediately say how many people have been taken hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, or what demands the assailant has made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation "to neutralize the assailant," the ministry said in a statement. (AP PhotoZurab Tsertsvadze)

Georgian police officers escorts a woman who escaped from a bank where an armed assailant has taken several people hostage, in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. An armed assailant took several people hostage at a bank in the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia on Wednesday, authorities said. The Georgian Interior Ministry didn't immediately say how many people have been taken hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, or what demands the assailant has made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation "to neutralize the assailant," the ministry said in a statement. (AP PhotoZurab Tsertsvadze)

A Georgian police officer escorts a woman who escaped from a bank where an armed assailant has taken several people hostage, in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. An armed assailant took several people hostage at a bank in the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia on Wednesday, authorities said. The Georgian Interior Ministry didn't immediately say how many people have been taken hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia, or what demands the assailant has made. Police sealed off the area and launched an operation "to neutralize the assailant," the ministry said in a statement. (AP PhotoZurab Tsertsvadze)