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Hostages Crisis Unfolds in Amsterdam

March 11, 2002

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AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands (AP) _ A gunman apparently upset with the quality of wide-screen television grabbed as many as 40 hostages Monday in the tallest building in the Dutch capital, the former headquarters of Philips Electronics.

Police were negotiating with the man, reported by some to be armed with a machine gun and explosives. After three hours of talks, six women were seen leaving the 35-story Rembrandt Tower office complex.

``An armed man entered the tower and is threatening people with a weapon. He won’t let them go,″ said police spokeswoman Elly Florax. No one has been injured, she said.

``A man came in with weapons and a bomb,″ said a security guard, speaking to Belgian television moments after the gunman seized the hostages. ``The man is very calm, but is holding a gun. He wants results,″ said the guard, who was not identified by name.

The hostage standoff began shortly after the 445-foot-high office tower opened for business Monday.

As the hostage-taking dragged on, the gunman apparently plastered protest signs in windows of the building as high as the 17th floor.

In a statement faxed from the office tower to NOS state television, the gunman said he was protesting the ``arrogant manipulation by the vendors of wide screen television,″ and complained that consumers were being misled about the quality of the product. Florax declined to comment on the man’s demands.

The four-page statement, reproducing parts of six letters of complaint previously sent to a Dutch newspaper and the Consumer Board, was printed on blank paper. One page had images comparing wide screen television with a regular screen.

Ewald van Kouwen, spokesman for the Consumer board, said the public body had several telephone and written contacts with the man, whom he refused to name.

``We dealt with him like hundreds of thousands of other callers. We weren’t threatened and there was no reason for us to contact the police,″ he said.

Fifty-six companies have offices in the building, and Philips Electronics had its headquarters there until it moved to a nearby office complex last year.

A spokesman for Philips said the company had been named by the gunman in talks with police. The spokesman, Hans Schouten, declined to say whether the company knew his identity.

Philips, which has undergone a restructuring, fired 18,000 people from its global operations last year and is planning several thousand more job cuts this year. There was no immediate indication the gunman was a disgruntled employee.

One of the signs put in windows said: ``Kleisterlee Lies,″ referring to the chairman of Royal Philips Electronics, Gerard Kleisterlee. Another said: ``We Mislead,″ an apparent reference to the company’s advertising campaign ``We Make Things Better.″

NOS television said the man was armed with a machine gun, but Florax said she could not confirm the type of gun he carried. NOS quoted an employee in the building as saying the gunman also had explosives.

A woman at Rabo Securities reached by telephone said she heard from colleagues in the building that 40 hostages were being held. She spoke on condition of anonymity.

``We are waiting for a signal to be evacuated,″ she said from her office on the 5th floor, on condition of anonymity. ``I’d like to get out of here and get some lunch and be home by this evening.″

Rembrandt Tower overlooks the Amstel River in the eastern part of the city in a newly developed business district still largely under construction.

Police cordoned off the area. Ambulances and fire trucks were on standby about 100 yards from the building. Rail traffic was diverted around Amstel Station, and the underground suburban rail network was closed.

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