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Gunmen in Venezuelan bank standoff flee in ambulance with hostages
Venezuela Bank Hostag Heal
A member of the National Guard takes cover behind a car aiming at a bank where gunmen held more than 30 people hostage in Altagracia de Orituco, Venezuela, Monday, Jan. 28, 2008. The hostage standoff began after four gunmen entered the local branch of the Banco Provincial. - photo by Associated Press
    ALTAGRACIA DE ORITUCO, Venezuela — Gunmen who held more than 30 hostages inside a Venezuelan bank for over 24 hours negotiated their getaway in an ambulance Tuesday and sped off with five captives, leaving the others inside.
    Under the deal with police, the four gunmen were permitted to leave with five hostages who agreed to accompany them, and they slipped into an ambulance that backed up to the entrance. As the gunmen and hostages stepped out, they concealed their faces with file folders and paper bags.
    ‘‘They threatened to start killing the hostages in 20 minutes, and for that reason they were allowed to leave for an unknown location to the west,’’ Guarico state Gov. Eduardo Manuitt said. ‘‘The important part of this was saving the lives of the hostages.’’
    The standoff in this town southeast of Caracas began Monday morning with a botched robbery. During the night, the gunmen had accepted a package with diapers and a bottle for a 2-week-old baby. On Tuesday, some hostages inside the bank waved signs in the windows with desperate pleas for help and used cell phones to call their relatives.
    Before the gunmen left, one woman held captive, Vanessa Saavedra, spoke quietly and haltingly to Colombia’s Caracol Radio by cell phone, saying: ‘‘We don’t want them to shoot ... We don’t want them to open fire. Please.’’
    Manuitt said the gunmen would not be followed and one of the hostages was assigned to drive.
    ‘‘Five hostages are going with them. Let’s see if they abandon them on the way,’’ top police official Vicente Alamo told The Associated Press.
    It was not immediately clear how many hostages were freed as relatives and onlookers massed as the front door of the bank and some were led to waiting ambulances. Bank executive Leon Enrique Cottin said earlier Tuesday that 33 hostages were held captive, but Manuitt said before they were freed that some 50 hostages were being freed, including several children and a pregnant woman.
    One man emerged with a bandaged hand, carrying a girl in his arms, and got into an ambulance. At least one woman was carried to an ambulance in a stretcher while the crowd pressed to get a look.

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