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Police manhunt after armed raider holds dozens hostage at Georgia bank

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A gunman could be seen escorting three individuals out of the bank building on Wednesday.
A gunman could be seen escorting three individuals out of the bank building on Wednesday.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze
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Police in Georgia are searching for an armed raider who held more than 40 hostages for hours on Wednesday.

Authorities launched an operation after the assailant broke into a branch in the western town of Zugdidi around 2.21 pm local time.

Forty-three hostages were gradually released and Georgia's Interior Ministry said in a statement that "their lives and health are no longer in danger".

But the attacker left the bank building with three other hostages, including a local police director.

After authorities provided the individual with $500,000 (€422,600) and a vehicle, the assailant reportedly drove away.

The three remaining hostages were then freed overnight in a forested area, while the assailant disappeared.

Speaking during Thursday's government meeting, Georgia's prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, urged police to quickly track the assailant down, adding that "there must be no illusion that a crime can go unpunished".

Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri told reporters that the assailant's demands were fulfilled because "for our government and for me, the people's lives are the most important".

Authorities said that negotiations with the individual had been "difficult and long-lasting".

The employees and customers who were initially held hostage have now been transferred to a safe area, police say.

On Wednesday, authorities could be seen escorting people away from the bank in the Samegrelo region.

The Interior Ministry said that the hostages were "replaced" by Avtandil Galdava, director of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Police Department.

AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze
Police officers were seen escorting people away from the bank on Wednesday.AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze

"Law enforcers continue intensive operative-investigative and search activities in order to arrest the assailant."

Police sealed off the area immediately on Wednesday and say they are making "maximum efforts" to ensure the safety of each citizen, community member, and police officer."