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Buenos Aires Hostage Crisis Ends

July 17, 2001

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ A pregnant woman was wounded by gunfire during a botched bank heist in which armed bandits held 20 people hostage for five hours before being taken peacefully into custody, police said.

SWAT teams, along with hundreds of gaping bystanders, surrounded the Banco Itau branch in the Flores district Monday afternoon. Television coverage called fresh attention to a crime wave that has alarmed the city.

Police said a lookout on a motorcycle waited on the street while two armed bandits entered the bank, firing one shot that apparently injured the woman on the street. The lookout then sped off. Hospital authorities told reporters the woman was in stable condition after surgery.

Live television spent much of the afternoon covering the unfolding crisis, including police taking the robbers into custody and scenes of shaken hostages being released into the embrace of weeping relatives.

Long regarded as one of Latin America’s safer cities, Buenos Aires has seen an escalation in bank and restaurant robberies and shootouts in the streets over the last two years. Federal authorities say robberies nearly tripled last year, reaching 143,800, while homicides and serious assaults are also on the rise.

Experts blame the crime wave on rising illegal drug use, a rampant economic crisis and a trend toward increasingly violent and youthful offenders.

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