An armed man has taken over a dozen hostages in a bank in the west-Georgian town of Zugdidi, demanding $500,000 and evacuation by helicopter for their release.
Police cordoned off the area outside the Bank of Georgia office in Zugdidi on Wednesday afternoon after the gunman reportedly took the hostages to the second floor of the building.
One of the employees of the bank said the man fired several times after entering the premises and demanded people lie on the ground. The witness also claimed that the hostage-taker let the elderly leave the building.
TV channel Mtavari Arkhi has broadcasted what they said was live footage from one of the hostages.
The hostage, who identified himself as Irakli Kvaratskhelia, said that the hostage-taker, was ‘standing by his side’ and was ‘armed to the teeth’. He said the man had promised to release everyone unharmed if he received $500,000 in cash and was allowed to leave by helicopter.
Kvaratskhelia, who contacted Mtavari Arkhi three times relaying the hostage taker’s words, showed footage of 16 people sitting on the floor and one man in military attire holding an automatic rifle with his face masked sitting on a chair.
The alleged hostage-taker did not dispute the anchor’s claim that he was holding 19 hostages.
The authorities and witnesses have not yet clarified if the hostage-taker was acting alone and how many hostages he took.
After the siege began, some people managed to leave the bank via fire escapes while others were taken from the roof with a crane.
The Interior Ministry has urged the media to abstain from broadcasting live footage of police activities in order not to ‘pose a threat to the lives and health of citizens and police officers’.
The local majoritarian candidate for the opposition European Georgia party, Gigi Ugulava, offered to exchange himself for the hostages.
Nugzar Tsiklauri from the United National Movement, who was also present at the scene outside the bank, accused the government of leading the country to ‘criminal anarchy’.