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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Berlin hostage crisis over
German police
Around 300 police were involved in operations
The occupation of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin has ended peacefully after German police went in and freed hostages held by Iraqi dissidents for several hours.


At 1940 (1740GMT) the building was entered and five people were arrested

Police spokeswoman
The move to end the siege came after Baghdad granted permission for German police to enter the diplomatic premises.

The hostage-takers did not resist arrest and no shots were fired in the operation to end the occupation, a police spokeswoman told reporters outside the embassy.

The dissidents - claiming to belong to an unknown group committed to toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein - occupied the embassy early on Tuesday afternoon.

Iraq's acting ambassador, Shahil Mohammed, and his successor were among the four people taken hostage. Five attackers were detained.

Iraqi poster claiming allegiance to Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein has been president since 1979
Iraq called the incident a "terrorist aggression" and blamed US and Israeli intelligence services.

The German Government condemned the hostage-taking as "unacceptable".

The incident came two days after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder renewed his opposition to a possible US war against Iraq - a stance which has met criticism from Washington.

'Liberation'

Masked commandos went over the embassy fence at dusk after police had repeatedly tried to make contact with the hostage-takers by telephone.

The area had been sealed off and armed police in bullet-proof vests deployed after the attackers entered the building in the Zehlendorf area soon after 1200GMT.

Two embassy staff were slightly injured in the initial phase of the occupation - one of them reportedly by pepper spray.

We confine our war of liberation to Iraq proper

Spokesman for Iraqi National Congress

Police later said the hostage-takers were armed with a pistol, a device for firing tear gas or pepper spray, an electric baton and an axe.

The dissident group, calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany, said in a statement that it had launched a "peaceful and temporary" action.

"In the name of the Iraqi people and their legitimate leadership, the Iraqi opposition, we declare that the liberation of Iraqi soil begins today," said the group's statement, faxed to Reuters.

"We are taking over the Iraqi embassy in Berlin and with this the first step in the liberation of our beloved fatherland".

However the group made no other political demands during the day.

The new Iraqi embassy on Riemeisterstrasse opened in Berlin on 17 July after moving from Bonn, the former West German capital.

German police are responsible for guarding the perimeter, but can only enter the premises with Iraqi permission.

German intelligence and the main Iraqi opposition organisations said they knew nothing about the dissident group.

The Iraqi National Congress (INC), the country's main opposition group in exile, condemned the occupation by what it said was an obscure organisation not representing the opposition.

"We confine our war of liberation to Iraq proper," an INC spokesman in London said.

"We are trying to get more information on these people. We do not condone such violence," the spokesman said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tristana Moore
"At least four people were taken hostage"

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20 Aug 02 | Europe
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
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