Armed men held guests and staff hostage in a luxury Istanbul hotel on Monday after forcing their way in with guns firing in a protest against Russian military action in Chechnya. The group, armed with pump-action shotguns and automatic rifles, fired off rounds and forced staff of the Swissotel in Turkey's biggest city to lie down in the lobby and demanded to speak to Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan. "I have spoken to them. They have political demands. We are trying to resolve things," Istanbul Governor Erol Cakir told reporters as he left the hotel around five hours into the siege. He gave no details of the demands or of the number of hostages, which some television channels put at around 60 hotel guests and staff. Police said the group is 20 to 25 strong. Among the attackers was a Turkish gunman and former prisoner who led a group of pro-Chechen hijackers who seized control of a Russian ferry on the Black Sea in 1996, the Anatolian news agency said, citing senior police sources. A Belgian man visiting guests in the hotel said: "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," Reuters http://www.reuters.com/ reported. The siege is a tricky one for Turkey, where the public has sympathy for the Chechen cause but where politicians are mindful of the importance of trade and energy ties with a Russia that suspects Chechen rebels find assistance and support in Turkey.
Russian President Vladimir Putin would never fall to the level of personal insults, Kremlin official spokesman Dmitry Peskov said