Tense hostage drama forces Merkel to scrap rally

19th August 2013, Comments 0 comments

A convicted stalker took three people hostage in a German town hall Monday, forcing Chancellor Angela Merkel to cancel a campaign rally in the Bavarian town square outside.

The 24-year-old hostage-taker -- armed with a real or imitation handgun, according to police -- later released one hostage but kept two, one of them a woman he had stalked before he was placed in psychiatric care last year.

More than 200 police cordoned off the historic town centre of Ingolstadt, north of Munich, where campaign posters still advertised Merkel's cancelled campaign event ahead of September 22 national elections.

Police were in contact with the perpetrator by phone but had no comment on his demands, other than to say he did not want money. Later the man's psychiatrist was also called in to speak with him, reports said.

Five hours after the hostage drama had started in the morning, the man released one of his captives, deputy mayor Sepp Misslbeck, around 2:00 pm (1200 GMT).

The two remaining hostages, Misslbeck's 25-year-old female receptionist and the city government's complaints department manager, were not believed to have been physically harmed.

As rain drizzled on the tense town centre, members of a tactical police squad in black body armour remained on standby outside, along with a row of ambulances.

"It's a horrible situation," said town Mayor Alfred Lehrmann. "The staff were deeply dismayed and didn't know how to react... It's a very bad day for Ingolstadt."

Police spokesman Hans-Peter Kammerer revealed only few details in a video interview posted online by the local Donau Kurier daily, perhaps mindful the hostage-taker could be following events on TV or online.

"What we know is that a young man armed with a handgun has taken hostage several people," he said.

Police also said it was not certain whether the handgun was real or an imitation model.

Mayor Lehmann said the man had a history of violent assault and intimidation, adding that the term "stalker" seemed too harmless.

The man was a former friend of the receptionist who had been barred from contacting her by a court order but approached her anyway, local media reported.

Police arrested him in mid-2012 and he was placed in psychiatric care. A trial that ended last month, with two more unspecified charges, led to a suspended sentence of one year and eight months behind bars.

The man had already entered the town hall building earlier this month, which led to him being barred from the complex, said the Bavarian interior minister, Joachim Herrmann.

Merkel had been due to speak at an afternoon rally of her conservative Christian Democratic Union outside the town hall, along with her political ally, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, who is also running for re-election next month.

The hostage drama was not believed to be related to the political event, said a police spokesman.

Merkel's conservative party and its Bavarian sister party cancelled Monday's appearance in Ingolstadt as well as a separate event in the city of Regensburg.

© 2013 AFP

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